Nothing disrupts a team’s offensive rhythm like a myriad of whistles. Fortunately for Columbia College, Khamari Ballard found an effective tempo well before the opening tip.
The Cougars beat Illinois-Springfield 88-74 on Thursday at The Arena of Southwell Complex in a game with 56 fouls. The win broke a tie for third between the Cougars and the Prairie Stars in the American Midwest Conference.
Ballard, who ranked seventh nationally in scoring entering Thursday’s contest, scored 40 on 12-of-16 shooting. He had 20 points and missed one shot in the first half.
Bob Burchard, the Cougars’ coach, said Ballard had a determined look on his face before the game.
“He came in and shot around prior to our pregame (warmups),” he said. “I just think he was determined to play well and he certainly did.”
Ballard was almost unstoppable in the open court. He routinely knifed his way into the lane and made several spectacular finishes, including a soaring one-handed dunk for his final points. He also hit two pull-up 3-pointers off fast breaks and found open teammates when the Prairie Stars defense clamped down. He made 4-of-6 3-pointers and handed out five assists.
Ballard said running the floor offensively is his favorite part of the game.
“We’re small, so we try to get a lot of (fast breaks),” Ballard said. “With the speed that I have, I believe I can get around the defenders and get an easy shot or pass it off to one of my teammates.”
The No. 9 Cougars (22-2, 3-1 AMC) maintained their composure better than the Prairie Stars (9-9, 2-2 AMC), who received three technical fouls for arguing with officials. The Cougars scored 11 points, including free throws, in three possessions after the technicals.
“They were trying to get me off my game and get me complaining to the refs,” Ballard said. “Coach told me to keep my head straight, and everything else will take care of itself.”
The Prairie Stars trailed 41-34 with 16:37 left before B.J. Bone picked up his team’s first technical. The Cougars’ Andre Amos hit both free throws and added a 3-pointer to extend his team’s lead to 46-34. Amos made two more free throws and put the Cougars up 64-46 with 10:23 left after Randy Thomas received the Prairie Stars’ third technical in 6:14.
Amos scored 21 despite being in foul trouble for most of the second half.
Malcolm Mahogany, the Cougars’ starting point guard, grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds and added seven assists.
“Rebounding is the stat you see, but I think his defensive presence is the most important thing,” Burchard said. “Watching film, we know we need him on the point of our defense just because he is big and quick. We are so small in the post, we at least need to be big out there.”
Mahogany said: “(Rebounding) is just positioning. Actually, rebounding is all want. If you want the ball, you go get it.”