The Columbia College men’s and women’s basketball teams hadn’t played since a few days before Christmas, but their time off was clearly well spent.
Both squads won their Friday matchups in the second annual Coaches vs. Cancer Holiday Classic. The Cougar men beat St. Mary (Kan.) 75-47 for their 11th straight win, and the Cougar women defeated Evangel 65-56 at the Arena of Southwell Complex.
The No. 19 Cougar women (7-5) had lost their previous three games. Cougar coach Mike Davis said his team’s 12-day break from game action couldn’t have come at a better time.
“Our practices have improved, and when you do that, sooner or later you’re going to start playing better,” he said. “I think that’s really what we saw tonight.”
During the break, the Cougars concentrated on reducing their turnovers and stopping dribble penetration with a new matchup-zone defense. The Cougars committed four first-half turnovers, and Davis said the zone defense made the Crusaders (8-4) a more perimeter-oriented team. The Crusaders, who are No. 12 in NAIA Division II, started four players at least 5 feet 10 inches tall, including 6-foot-3-inch center Shaletha Page.
Cougar forward LeAnn Fossum said Page was difficult to guard in the paint, but Fossum used her superior speed and quickness to gain an offensive advantage. Fossum scored 10 points in 18 minutes. She was also the recipient of several good passes from Tiffany Foote, who led the Cougars with 21 points, 9 assists and three steals.
“We knew coming into this game, that Evangel was good,” Foote said. “Coming off three losses, no matter who it is, you definitely want to get back on the winning side.”
Junior forward Charliss Ridley played her first minutes with Columbia College since tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee in August. She immediately scored after checking in and tied for the team lead with seven rebounds.
“She’s not braced,” Davis said. “She’s doing it all with her legs. She’s making great strides, and she’s someone that will get better and better for us.”
The No. 15 Cougar men (14-1) used suffocating defense and a precise fastbreak offense to stymie the Spires (3-9) early. The Cougars forced 24 Spire turnovers and scored 23 points off those miscues. Andre Amos led the Cougars with seven steals and three blocks.
“Great defense leads to easy offense,” Cougar guard Khamari Ballard said. “Fortunately, we got tips and got some steals and were able to put them away.”
Columbia College coach Bob Burchard said he was pleased with his team’s defensive effort, particularly in the first 10 minutes.
“Our guys looked really enthusiastic, and that’s a positive thing coming out of a layoff,” he said. “We talk about guys setting the tone defensively, on the perimeter and in the post, and I think that happened.”
The Cougars apparently couldn’t wait until Saturday’s dunk contest to show off their high-flying abilities. Despite not previously converting a dunk at home this season, Nahowan Saxon had a pair of thunderous two-handed slams, Amos threw one down off a steal and Ballard missed a wide-open dunk in the opening minutes.
“(Burchard) said he’d rather us miss a dunk than miss a layup, so I guess he wasn’t too mad,” Ballard said.
Ballard led the Cougars with 17 points.
Josh Hedrick played for the first time this season after gaining his eligibility. He made his only shot, a 3-pointer.
“He’s an outstanding outside shooter,” Burchard said. “I did think he looked comfortable out there. He’s very athletic, but he’s got a long way to go defensively.”
Two other games were played on the Classic’s first day. The Georgetown (Ky.) women defeated William Woods 82-47, and the Missouri Baptist men beat Brescia (Ky.) 79-58.