COLUMBIA — Junior guard Derrick Dilworth didn't need another reason to be hyped up Thursday night.
He had already been hand-picked by Columbia College men's basketball coach Bob Burchard to guard Williams Baptist guard Kyle Harvey, who, at 19.3 points per game entering Thursday night's contest at the Arena of Southwell Complex, leads the American Midwest Conference in scoring.
Burchard and Dilworth discussed the match-up at length throughout the week. Even though he is smaller than Harvey, Burchard chose Dilworth because of his long arms, speed and commitment to the cause.
"They wanted me to lock him down," Dilworth said.
Then he got elbowed in the face.
Just more than three minutes into the game, Harvey and Dilworth collided going up for a rebound on the Cougars' end. As Harvey's hands hit ball, his elbow smacked into Dilworth's chin, spiraling him backwards. When the play continued on the other end, Dilworth was still below his basket, walking in circles and grabbing his face.
Dilworth headed to the bench, only to return six minutes later refreshed and refocused.
"When something like that happens the adrenaline starts rushing," Dilworth said.
He finished with 14 points, two of which came on an electrifying left-handed jam off a backdoor pass from Cougars forward Marquette Murrell. While the Cougars pulled away to an eventual 89-53 win, Dilworth kept Harvey in check.
"The best way to guard somebody is not to let them catch the ball," Dilworth said.
Harvey finished with just nine points, his lowest total of the season.
Things are going well for a basketball team when it hasn't trailed by more than eight points in any conference game, or when it has led for more than 97 minutes straight, or when it is able to experiment with often unused plays in the middle of a game.
All of these apply to still undefeated Columbia College (23-0).
With about five minutes left in the first half Thursday night, Burchard called a play called "Box X." The Cougars swung the ball around the key several times, looking disoriented, until the ball found its way into the hands of Murrell at the top of the key.
Murrell looked right, then he looked left, unsure of what to do. The entire offense stood at a standstill, like stagnant water.
"Everything's a chess play right now," Burchard said, explaining that his team needs to try new things when they play opponents for a second time.
Murrell peered around, baiting the defense, lulling them to sleep while Dilworth cut behind everyone. He took the bounce pass from Murrell, dunked it, and hung onto the rim for a second, to "oohs" and "ahhs."
"That wasn't part of the design," Dilworth said afterwards, laughing. "Luckily it worked out."
The Cougars' dominance on the court this season has been matched only by their intensity and their ability to deflate their opponents. Their ruthless combination of unselfish offensive play and suffocating defense has proved punishing to every foe.
Just three minutes into the second half and down by 25, Williams Baptist was jogging up and down the court. Their coach, Josh Austin yelled, almost pleading to his players, "Play hard! Play!"
The Cougars, however, never stopped the pressure. Even with just two minutes left in the second half and up 82-48, the third string was running plays, scrapping for rebounds and beating Williams Baptist to loose balls.
With 15 seconds left, Williams Baptist officially threw in the towel. Cougars reserve guard Marcus Whitt stood close to half court with the ball at his hip, he and the rest of his team watching the clock wind down. The Eagles, like all the others to play against Columbia College so far this season, deflated and defeated, just let them, and then walked away.