There was no slow start or early jitters. The Columbia College men’s basketball team was good from start to finish on Wednesday.
The Cougars defeated Missouri Valley 83-63 in their home opener at Southwell Gymnasium.
The Cougars’ man-to-man defense disrupted the Vikings’ offense and created scoring opportunities in the opening minutes. Columbia College opened with two consecutive three-point plays by Khamari Ballard and Malcolm Mahogany. The Cougars led 11-2 after four minutes and never trailed.
“I thought our defensive intensity to start both halves was really good,” Cougars coach Bob Burchard said. “That’s something we talk about a lot, and I think it set the tone.”
Ballard led the Cougars in scoring for the third time with 23, and he was one of five Cougars scoring in double figures. Andre Amos had 13, Nahowan Saxon had 12, Tim Melz had 11 and Mahogany had 10.
Although Ballard is known for his scoring, Burchard said he was most impressed with the intangible aspects of Ballard’s game.
“Of course he scored points, but I thought he played really passionately,” Buchard said. “He had a great bounce to his step and really looked like he was enjoying the game out there.”
Missouri Valley’s Darin Rehkop led the Vikings (1-1) with 18 points, including 12 in the first half, and eight rebounds. It appeared Rehkop was a difficult matchup in the post for the undersized Cougars, but their guards’ aggressive defense made getting Rehkop the ball difficult for the Vikings.
“We’re not a big team, so we’ve got to use our speed to pressure the ball and make sure the ball doesn’t get passed inside all the time,” Ballard said.
The Cougars (3-0) held Chris Ealim, the Vikings’ top scorer, to just 10 points on 2-of-9 shooting.
Columbia College hit 8-of-21 three-point attempts. Amos was 3-of-5, including two baskets that were at least four feet behind the line.
“Andre’s got range,” Burchard said. “When he shoots the ball, it always looks like it’s going to go in. We don’t put many reins on his jump shot.”
Mahogany and Craig Bryan, two of the Cougars’ starters, each picked up two early fouls and were forced to watch most of the first half from the bench. Aaron Edwards filled in for Mahogany at point guard and led the Cougars with five assists, and he also commited just one turnover in 24 minutes.
Despite relatively limited action, Mahogany grabbed seven rebounds, tying him with Saxon for the Cougars’ lead.
For a few minutes in the second half, Ballard and Mahogany swapped guard spots with Ballard playing the point. Ballard said point guard is his natural position, but he generally prefers playing shooting guard.
“As long as I’m out on the floor, it doesn’t really matter,” he said.