COLUMBIA — This is how it usually goes.
A winning streak to end the season is nothing new for the Columbia College men’s basketball team. Neither is an automatic bid to the NAIA national tournament.
The Cougars (28-2, 19-1 American Midwest Conference) ended their regular season on a 12-game winning streak following a 101-69 Senior Night victory over Missouri Baptist (7-23, 6-14 AMC) on Saturday.
Junior forward Jeremy Nolen led all scorers with 27 points and grabbed nine rebounds. Freshman Malik Ray scored 15 points and gave the Cougars some energy when they need it.
“That dunk at the end of the first half,” coach Bob Burchard said, talking about Ray’s alley-oop from junior guard Tanner Sutton. “That was awesome.”
Assistant athletic director Drew Grzella told the video operator to submit it to SportsCenter.
“He’s definitely the most athletic guy on our team,” Sutton said.
With this victory, Columbia College clinched its fourth straight AMC regular-season championship, giving the Cougars an automatic berth in the NAIA national tournament, which will take place at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City from March 19 to 25. Winning the AMC also gives them the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament, guaranteeing home court as long as they keep winning. The Cougars will open Thursday.
“Now we don’t have to get on a bus to Henderson, Tenn.,” Burchard said, which is where the other top team in the AMC, Freed-Hardeman, is located.
Columbia College and Freed-Hardeman split the season series, but the Lions also lost to Williams Baptist in its next game, opening the door for an outright championship for Columbia.
The Cougars envision a rubber-match in the AMC tournament title game.
“We want to play them again,” Sutton said. “We split with them on the season, but we want to prove again that we can beat them.”
Seniors Devin Griffin and Wendell Crowder have won 116 games in their four years together, which Burchard said is the most games any players have ever won in school history. And on top of that, Griffin has never missed a game.
After the game, Griffin walked over to meet with some friends.
“I feel old, man,” Griffin said.
Supervising editor is Mark Selig.