COLUMBIA — The Columbia College basketball team led Avila University 39-24 with 2:33 left in the first half, but the Cougars knew the game was not finished.
"Fifteen is not what it used to be," Cougars coach Bob Burchard said.
Columbia College, ranked No. 14 in the NAIA, had to fight off Avila until the final minute at the Arena of Southwell Complex. Burchard said with the shot clock and the ability of so many players to shoot 3-pointers, teams have the ability to come back from larger deficits.
The Eagles pressured Columbia College all night, slowly closing in on the Cougars' lead. With 3:30 left in the game, Avila guard Kelby Phelps cut the Columbia lead to four.
With the Cougars up 65-59, Taylor Evans came down with an offensive rebound after a teammate's missed 3-pointer. It was one of five rebounds for the strong, bulky Evans. He then passed the ball out and ran to a spot near the baseline. From there, the 6-foot-3 guard got the ball back and made a shot to give the Cougars and eight-point lead.
The Cougars held off the Eagles 80-64. The Cougars pulled away from Avila with free-throws in the final minutes. Columbia College shot 32-38 from the free-throw line.
"We held the lead in the first half. It wasn't a complete flop on our part. They did hustle hard, and they made some nice plays," Junior forward Hal Payne said, "We'll take that any night."
Avila did not allow the Cougars to let up, Payne said. The Eagles pressure affected Evans, who admitted he had mental mistakes in the first half, including a travel and some "lazy passes."
Burchard said Evans came through in the second half. The coach was pleased with his team's effort as their record improved to 3-0.
The Cougars play their first road game of the season at 4 p.m. Friday against Taylor University in Deerfield, Ill.