Columbia College men's basketball player Jordan Dressler might have saved the Cougars season Wednesday night at the NAIA national tournament at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City.
A shot block by Dressler in the final minute helped preserve a 58-52 victory over Montana State-Northern for the No. 15-seeded Cougars in their first-round game, advancing them to a second-round matchup Friday against No. 2 seed Oklahoma Baptist.
With Columbia College leading 54-52 with 45 seconds left, the No. 18-seeded Skylights (27-7) had the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead. After a time out, Dressler blocked a shot by the Skylights' Joe Simpson. Dressler, a Columbia native, led the Cougars with 20 points and 10 rebounds.
“We got to play through him (Dressler) offensively in the second half,” Cougars coach Bob Burchard said by phone. “He really shot the ball extremely well.”
Offense was at a premium all night. For more than a five-minute stretch in the second half, the Skylights held the lead at 37-36, with each team missing shot after shot.
A low-scoring game was expected. The Skylights ranked first and the Cougars second in the NAIA in points per game allowed.
“I really think our defensive pressure stayed strong, and I really think they fatigued in the second half.” Burchard said in a radio interview after the game. “Once we finally got on top, then it broke lose.”
The Cougars (27-6) trailed until a three-point play by sophomore guard Devin Griffin gave them a 39-37 second-half advantage. The Cougars never relinquished the lead.
Multiple buses of Cougars fans made the trip to Kansas City for the game. Burchard said their support helped to create a great atmosphere for a great game.
Before the game started, the Cougars' fans were treated to the Parade of Champions event. Similar to an Olympic Opening Ceremony, each team was brought onto the court at the Municipal Center and introduced to the crowd.
After each of the 32 teams was announced, all the players stood on the court positioned strategically to spell out NAIA. The ceremony delayed the start time of the game by almost 30 minutes, but Burchard said it did not affect his team’s play.
“I really think our team has handled all the distractions really well to this point,” Burchard said. “To be honest, we had a little extra warmup because we played right after the parade, so that actually helped our guys get ready.”
This is the fifth time in their 16 appearances that the Cougars have advanced to the second round of the championships, including making it all the way to the championship game in 2009.
Oklahoma Baptist (29-4) won 68-62 over Belhaven (Miss.) in its first-round game.