COLUMBIA — Down by 15 points after scoring just 22 points in the first half against Missouri Baptist on Thursday night at The Arena at Southwell Complex, each member of the Columbia College men's basketball team took on a personal responsibility to fight back.
Relying on strong defense, the Cougars generated just enough offense in the second half to squeak out a 58-54 victory.
"I wouldn't call my mom tonight and say we played great offensively," junior forward Hal Payne said of the Cougars' offensive output. "By no stretch of the imagination is that how the game went."
Without 6-foot-8-inch junior forward Jordan Dressler, who is lost for the foreseeable future with an ankle sprain, the Cougars needed the 6-foot-9-inch Payne to provide an inside presence.
Payne led the Cougars with 18 points, while also accumulating eight rebounds.
Payne said the loss of Dressler had the Cougars out of sync in the first half. They shot just more than 26 percent from the field in the first half, including an abysmal 0-for-14 from behind the 3-point line.
“When I was yammering to the guys in the locker room about how much him being out and having a new game plan has sort of thrown us out of whack, it became clear to me, too, just how much he does for us," Payne said. "A lot of that slack had to be picked up, and that's on me."
On cue, Payne sparked the Cougars' offense immediately in the second half, hitting two long-range jump shots just inside the top of the 3-point arc, using a shooting stroke that resembled a shooting guard more than a power forward.
However, it was defense that fueled the Cougars' comeback. After each of Payne's jumpers to start the half, he immediately screamed at his teammates to focus on defense.
"Let's go D," Payne yelled. "Get a stop D!"
About five minutes into the second half, the Cougars employed a full-court press, helping the Cougars generate seven second-half turnovers and fast-break scoring chances.
"I guess that just proves the coaching adage that defense is the thing you can control when you're not shooting the ball well," Cougars coach Bob Burchard said of his team's defensive effort.
The Cougars will have to continue playing tough team defense down the stretch. There is no timetable for Dressler's return. However, Payne said the team can't make excuses just because Dressler is hurt.
“We didn’t point to the fact that Jordan’s down and say that’s why we are losing,” Payne said. “We as a team have to figure out how we are going to play without him in.”
With the victory, the Cougars are 21-6 overall and 8-1 in American Midwest Conference play. The Cougars hold a one-game lead over Harris-Stowe in the conference with only three regular season games left to play. The Cougars will remain at home over the weekend, facing Williams Baptist at 4 p.m. Saturday.