COLUMBIA – Columbia College sophomore guard Pep Stanciel stayed close to the man he was guarding, particularly the second half.
On one early second-half possession, Stanciel played such tight defense that multiple picks from opposing players didn’t touch him. The opposing guard's only escape from Stanciel was to dribble backwards toward half court.
The retreat pleased Stanciel, who clapped his hands twice, urging his opponent to try something else.
William Woods' offense struggled to find something successful the second half.
Columbia College men’s basketball used Stanciel’s tight defense, and its defensive pressure to take down William Woods 79-65 in the American Midwest Conference tournament quarterfinal.
But the tight defense didn’t start until the second half.
“In the first half, (the players) weren’t doing what we asked them to do,” Columbia head coach Bob Burchard said.
What they were supposed to be doing was not leave the shooters open, according to junior guard Tanner Sutton. The Cougars' big men were supposed to help guard the shooters when there was a pick set on the smaller guards. That’s why freshman Malik Ray got an earful from Columbia assistant coach Matt Brock.
“Malik!” Brock yelled. “Run out and help!”
He was going to yell more but turned away and kept his words to himself.
Burchard yelled, too, but reached for his Diet Coke before yelling any more.
Coming into the game, Columbia knew it should win. But going into halftime down by four, Sutton said William Woods could only play well if the Cougars let them.
“We knew they can play well," Sutton said. "They won their first round of the conference tournament by twenty-something. But we weren’t playing how we planned.”
At halftime, the Cougar coaches reminded the players of their defensive duties. They held William Woods to only eight points in the first 12 minutes of the second half and a measly 31-percent shooting.
The offense played stronger, too.
“We moved the ball around a lot,” Sutton said. “To start the second half, we only dribbled when we saw an opening and needed to. That’s when we’re at our best.”
Sutton took advantage of the ball movement, draining a team-leading three 3-pointers. Senior Derrick Dilworth led the team with 15 points.
“You just have to get through that first game and start playing ball,” Burchard said.
The Cougars are already in the NAIA national tournament for winning the conference regular season title, but they still want to win the conference tournament.
Next up is Saturday's 4 p.m. semifinal against Park University.
Supervising editor is Erik Hall.