KANSAS CITY — That was close.
That was the collective feeling of everyone in Municipal Auditorium wearing Columbia College blue on Friday as the final buzzer sounded on a grueling second-round battle. The Cougars almost saw their dreams of an undefeated, national championship season die at the hands of a team called Hope.
That was close.
"Piece of cake," Columbia College coach Bob Burchard joked afterwards.
Down by as many as 10 points in the first half, the Cougars rallied back behind the inspired play of guard Derrick Dilworth to defeat Hope University (Calif.) 66-64 and advance to the NAIA tournament quarterfinals Saturday.
Dilworth scored 11 points and was the centerpiece of a crucial 13-0 Cougars run in the second half, but the charge he took with 21.6 seconds left secured a one-point lead and proved to be the biggest play of the game.
"Derrick came up big when we needed him," guard Tanner Sutton said. "And that charge was even bigger."
Hope point guard Kris Rosales used a steady combination of twists and spins to expose Columbia College's guards in the first half and scored a game high 19 points. He'd drive right, spin and score, like clockwork. At halftime Burchard assigned Dilworth to guard him, thinking the length of his arms would give Rosales problems.
"Honestly, that guy, he was killing me," Sutton said.
Rosales favored his right side so much that putting the lefty Dilworth on him proved monumental. Rosales struggled mightily in the second half, turning the ball over four times during a 13-0 Cougars run that put them up 60-54 with four minutes to play. Then with the game on the line, Rosales went left for what seemed like the first time all night, only to spin into the chest of Dilworth, who fell and was rewarded with the charge.
"I watched him a couple of days ago," Dilworth said. "Every time he goes left he wants to spin back right. I knew he was going to do that."
“We call that 'Introducing Columbia,' " Burchard said. "Taking one right there in the (jersey letters).”
With Columbia College down by five with nine minutes left, Dilworth blocked Rosales' shots on consecutive possessions, both times leading to Cougars points in transition. The next time down the court, Rosales got it picked again, this time by Devin Griffin. Griffin drove to the other end of the court before dumping the ball off to Dilworth, who slammed it home to put Columbia College up 56-54.
The Cougars committed 17 turnovers, a far cry from their usually crisp, mistake-free style of play.
"Very uncharacteristic of us," Burchard said.
The sloppiness caused them to fall behind early. They were down by 10 just eight minutes into the game.
“We were kind of shocked," Dilworth said. "We never been down in a game before, not by that much. Us being down like that is really big.”
Columbia College cut the deficit to five by the 2:20 mark. Two free throws from Jordan Dressler (18 points, 11 rebounds) and a 3-pointer by Sutton tied the game at 32-32 going into the half.
It went back and forth from there, with Hope's Jeremy Kilgore (16 points) and Orlando Collins (15 points) causing the Cougars problems from both inside the key and out. Two Rosales free throws put Hope up 54-47 with 9:38 left. After that Dilworth went off.
Griffin was fouled after Dilworth's charge, and the senior hit one of two free throws to make the score 66-64.
Hope then had 10 seconds to tie the game, but Rosales, possibly still rattled, traded passes with Austin Sanford until the buzzer went off without a shot.
Columbia College takes on LSU-Shreveport in the tournament quarterfinal at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City.