COLUMBIA – Patric Massey fell to the ground with about six and a half minutes left. The Columbia College men's basketball team was down by two. An opposing player tripped on Massey’s head. The referee blew his whistle.
That marked the senior big man’s fifth and final foul – he was done for the day. The crowd booed while Cougar coach Bob Burchard threw up his arms and shook his head.
The Cougars’ other big man, senior Gerardo Isla, fouled out as well. But Columbia College (26-2, 17-1 American Midwest Conference) switched to a zone defense to avoid mismatches down low, and the seventh-ranked Cougars fought back from being down most of the game to overcome the NAIA's fifth-ranked Freed-Hardeman (24-3, 17-1 AMC) by a score of 93-82.
The win for Columbia tied the Cougars with Freed-Hardeman at the top of the American Midwest Conference standings, with two games remaining before the league tournament. These teams could very well meet again with more on the line next month.
On Saturday, there were a total of 53 fouls called, and though players, coaches and fans disagreed with many of them, Burchard understood the reason for the frequent whistles.
“It was just big,” Burchard said. “It was a big game atmosphere. Lots of emotion, it was loud and lots of going back and forth. And typically when guys are playing at this level, that happens.”
With fouls came free throws. Columbia College shot 41 free throws in the game, 27 of them in the second half, making 23 (85 percent). The Cougars only attempted 22 free throws in the entire game in its last meeting with the Lions, which it lost by 15.
The free throws weren’t the only thing that changed in the second half. After Columbia College raced out to 5-0 lead to start the game, the Cougars were down by 17 at one point in the first half. And it wasn’t until freshman Malik Ray hit a jumper with 4:24 left in the game that the Cougars regained the lead.
Junior guard Tanner Sutton was impressed with how he and his teammates came back.
“It wasn’t that we came out slow; we just weren’t hitting our shots and they were capitalizing on opportunities better in the first half,” Sutton said of the Lions, which shot 66 percent from the field in the first half. “But for us to be down that much and keep our heads is big.”
But the ball stopped going in the hoop for Freed-Hardeman, which made only seven shots in the second half while shooting 17 percent.
“I think it was just our defensive intensity went up,” Massey said. “And it paid off in the end.”
After the game, a Freed-Hardeman assistant coach hollered at a Columbia College assistant.
“We’ll see you in a couple weeks,” he said, referring to the conference tournament, which begins March 6.
A third matchup is likely, assuming both teams take care of business in the early rounds of the tournament.
Supervising editor is Mark Selig.