COLUMBIA — When the Columbia College women's basketball team faced Freed-Hardeman University five weeks ago, it was run out of the gym, falling at the hands of its unbeaten conference opponent by 27 points.
In Saturday's rematch versus the No. 2 Lions, the No. 12 Cougars were determined to prove that they were a different team, and that this would be a different game. This time Columbia College lost 84-82.
A win for either team meant taking over first place in the American Midwest Conference. After Saturday, both teams have two games remaining against teams they have already beaten by large margins this season, so the winner would likely go on to win the AMC and receive an automatic berth to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Women's Basketball Tournament.
Columbia stormed out of the gate to a 13-3 lead behind three three-pointers, two of which came from senior guard Heather English.
English, the second leading scorer in Columbia women's basketball history, only managed three points in the first meeting against Freed-Hardeman.
"I struggled badly (in the first meeting)," English said. "I wanted to prove that I'm not that kind of player."
English showed not only that she was a different player than she was in the first game, but that she was one of the best players on the floor. She registered 28 points and was the leading scorer of the game.
After a scolding from Freed-Hardeman coach Dale Neal during a timeout, the Lions fought back. Their aggressive style of play forced the Cougars to foul 14 times in the first half, and the Lions capitalized by making 12 free throws. Freed-Hardeman also made their mark from deep, shooting 7-10 from behind the arc in the first half.
"Their kids have a really high basketball IQ," Columbia coach Mike Davis said of Freed-Hardeman. "They can really shoot it, that's what they do."
But just like their counterparts, Columbia shot the lights out from downtown. The Cougars drained nine three-pointers in the first half and only trailed by two points at halftime.
In a back and forth second half, the lead switched four times as neither team could gain control.
With less than three seconds remaining in the game, English caught the ball halfway between the baseline and half court. Charging toward the basket, she took a couple dribbles and launched a shot just inside the half court line.
If the three-point shot went in, it would have won the game for the Columbia, upsetting the No. 2 team in the NAIA and giving the Cougars a very good shot of winning the American Midwest Conference.
Instead, the ball caromed off the backboard. English slapped her hands on the ground in despair. The scoreboard read 84-82, Freed-Hardeman.