COLUMBIA — The Columbia College men’s basketball team watched calmly from the tunnel at Southwell Arena Saturday, silent witnesses to the women’s 73-69 overtime loss to Lyon College, their first defeat in 74 days.
During timeouts in the overtime period, a few of the men dropped their heads as the band, decked out in Hawaiian shirts, played upbeat music that clashed with the mood.
As Lyon College cheered and high-fived on the court in celebration, the Cougar men, who haven’t lost in almost a year themselves, receded into their locker room. About ten minutes later they emerged and stormed through a lap around the court, determined not to let the same thing happen to them.
“Our girls' losing does give us a little energy,” junior guard Derrick Dilworth said.
Perhaps anticipating an overly-determined effort from the National Association of Intergollegiate Athletic’s only undefeated team, Lyon assistant coach Matt Creamer approached the scorer’s table to submit his starting lineup and joked, “We’re going to start seven today.”
At times, the Cougars' defensive effort was so stifling it seemed as if they may have actually outnumbered their opponent on the court. Columbia dominated Lyon, cruised to a 73-58 win and clinched the American Midwest Conference regular season title.
“Especially the first half, that was probably the best that we’ve played defensively in a while,” said sophomore guard Zach Rockers, who hit four 3-pointers.
The Cougars didn’t just stop the ball from going in the hoop, they took it away as well, converting many of 13 combined blocks and steals into transition baskets. Three of those blocks came from Dilworth, but the most emphatic - and perhaps most indicative of Columbia’s overall play - was the work of point guard Devin Griffin.
Midway through the first half, Griffin swatted a 3-point attempt from the top of the key all the way across half court, raced to the loose ball and took it uncontested to the other end.
Griffin and Dilworth on the outside worked with center Jordan Dressler, who paced the Cougars with 16 points down low, to slice up the Scots defense with an endless supply of screens and cuts.
Columbia College coach Bob Burchard calls the 6-foot-8 Dressler one of the best passing big men he’s coached in 24 seasons. That skill was on display Saturday. Late in the second half, Dressler found a cutting Dilworth with an over-the-shoulder backdoor pass to complete a give-and-go.
“I don’t know if we can replace him,” Burchard said of the senior.
Dressler, last year’s conference Player of the Year, has now led the Cougars to three straight AMC titles. But even those past championship teams had losses on their records. This year’s 28-0 Cougars do not.
Two games remain on the way to the possibility of the first undefeated season in program history.