Cougars win thriller to move into conference finals

Saturday, March 8, 2014 | 8:12 p.m. CST; updated 7:45 a.m. CDT, Monday, March 10, 2014
Columbia College beat Park University Saturday 66-65 during the American Midwest Conference tournament semifinals at Columbia College. Columbia guard Devin Griffin made the game-winning free-throw.

Bob Burchard almost always stays on court after games to do an interview with the Columbia College play-by-play announcer.

On Saturday, the Columbia College men’s basketball coach went directly to the locker room with his team following its 66-65 victory over Park University in the American Midwest Conference semifinals.

Burchard told the team about a commercial he saw recently of a surfer seeing a giant wave in the distance. He described how the surfer grabs his board and swims out into the ocean.

And once the surfer gets out far enough, “You guys just have to ride the wave,” Burchard said, bending his knees and reaching out his arms to the side as if he were on a surfboard.

The Cougars (30-2) are currently riding a 14-game winning streak going into the AMC final against Freed-Hardeman (27-4) at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Arena of Southwell Complex. The teams split the season series, and this is the matchup Columbia College has wanted.

But the Cougars had to claw their way through this game to get to the conference final. They controlled most of the game, their largest lead stretched to 18 at one point soon after halftime. But thanks to 27 percent shooting in the second half and five Pirate threes, Columbia College found itself down by four with three minutes left in the game.

The Park lead wouldn’t go away until senior Devin Griffin hit two free throws to tie the game at 65 with 49 seconds to play.

Griffin leads the team in free-throw attempts on the season with over 200, and shoots about 79 percent from the line. On Saturday Griffin scored 16 points, 11 of them coming from free throws.

What came next was a Pirate attack paused by a timeout by their head coach to set up a potential game-winning play with 26 seconds remaining. Columbia College didn’t allow Park to get anything going, eventually forcing a shot clock violation with 10.6 seconds left in the game.

The final play was designed for Griffin to drive as hard as he can towards the basket.

“One thing about Devin – sometimes his motor runs at a super high level, which we absolutely love,” Burchard said. “And then sometimes it doesn’t need to run 90 miles per hour down Rangeline St., it needs to run about 40 or 30 so we don’t run into people. But you got to love him.”

Griffin took the ball on a handoff from senior big man Patric Massey at the top of the 3-point line. He then sped into the lane and rose up to shoot. A whistle was blown and Griffin was headed back to the free throw line with five seconds left.

He missed the first.

“Actually, I wasn’t nervous,” Griffin said. “I’ve made 100 percent of my game-winning shots since I’ve been here.

"But when you miss the first one, obviously you put pressure on yourself. So you just have to step back and think that you’re all alone in practice.”

He knocked in the second, putting the Cougars up by one. The Pirates long-range heave was off the mark and Columbia College walked away with a victory.

According to Griffin, this was the seventh game-winning shot of his Columbia College career. Burchard was asked to confirm, but he had no clue.

“I would say we’ve had quite a few, Devin would say he’s had quite a few,” Burchard said with a laugh. “He would know that.”

Supervising editor is Greg Bowers.

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