KANSAS CITY — As time expired during a timeout at the Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Kameron King hit three shots in five seconds to win the BRGR Free Throw Challenge. Luckily for the Columbia College men's basketball team, King, a MidAmerica Nazarene supporter, spent the rest of the first half in the cushioned seats of section 26.
The Belhaven Blazers, on the other hand, shot 27.3 percent from the field in the first half, with eight misses from the free-throw line and only one three-pointer on eight attempts.
The Cougars would take advantage of their 25-point halftime lead to ease past Belhaven, 81-57, and advance to the second round of the NAIA Men's Basketball Tournament.
The game tipped off more than 35 minutes behind schedule, but Columbia College did not miss a beat. Columbia scored the first six points of the game and jumped out to a 10-3 lead after a brief interruption from Belhaven's only three of the first half.
Senior Devin Griffin led the Cougars early on, scoring all 14 of his points in the first half.
"I thought Devin was spectacular to begin the game," coach Bob Burchard said. "He just really looked like a guy who’s been there before. Of course, he has. I was really happy with that. It’s nice to see him so balanced like that."
The Cougars (32-2) struggled with foul trouble early, recording 12 fouls in the first half. But the combination of Belhaven's struggles from the free-throw line and Columbia's success in converting high-percentage baskets prevented the Blazers from mounting a serious rally.
"They’re not a great shooting team on the season," Burchard said. "We had thought we might end up playing some zone because of that, but our guys have done such a nice job of following their drivers."
Belhaven fared slightly better in the second half, shooting 40 percent from the floor. By then, however, the game was far from in reach for the Blazers. And even with the win in hand, the Cougars never let up.
"We still wanna keep playing hard, even if we’re up 30, 40, 50," said Patrick Massey, who had a game-high 10 rebounds. "We’re still gonna go hard at them and just play hard, because if we let up and think that we have it easy, that’s when they’re gonna slip back in and break the lead down."
The Cougars face MidAmerica Nazarene University on Friday at 8 p.m. The Pioneers knocked off 13th-ranked LSU Shreveport, which eliminated the top-seeded Cougars from the national tournament last season.
"Actually, that’s a real disappointment," Griffin said. "Because they sent us home last year. They finished our undefeated season. We wanted a rematch. We wanted a rematch bad."