Great shooting and hustle have helped the Columbia College men’s basketball team ascend to national prominence this season, but Missouri Baptist used the Cougars’ successful formula against them Thursday night.
The Spartans beat the Cougars 84-73 and handed Columbia College its first loss at The Arena of Southwell Complex. The Cougars and Spartans are tied for the American Midwest Conference lead.
Rebounds key to victory
The No. 21 Spartans (24-5, 9-2 AMC) played intense man-to-man defense and got most of the loose balls. The Spartans outrebounded the Cougars 49-25. Cougars coach Bob Burchard said his team was outhustled.
“I really think that was the difference in the game,” he said. “I think they were more aggressive than us in every phase of the game. We just got destroyed on the boards, and that is hard-work stuff. Maybe I didn’t have them prepared well enough.”
The Spartans were also accurate from long-range. They made 11-of-22 3-pointers, including Joe Rothweiler’s 7-of-10. The Cougars made 7-of-28 3-pointers.
“(Rothweiler) played really well and shot the ball incredibly well,” Burchard said. “I think (his 3-pointers) were separation points in the game. Their perimeter guys played very well.”
Saxon and Melz foul out
The No. 5 Cougars (28-3, 9-2 AMC) had foul problems throughout. Nahowan Saxon, a sophomore forward, fouled out and played 15 minutes. Tim Melz, a junior forward, picked up his fourth foul with 14:19 left.
Khamari Ballard, who tied Rothweiler with a game-high 26 points, said the fouls were a turning point.
“(The officials) wouldn’t let us play at all,” he said. “They called a lot of them ticktacks, but then we’ve just got play our game and try to come up with the win.”
The Spartans’ Jason Kaplan, a 6-foot-8 center, scored 27 in the Cougars’ 84-71 win Feb. 7 at Missouri Baptist. He scored 13 on Thursday, but his presence opened up the perimeter for his teammates.
The score was close throughout, but the Spartans answered every Cougar run. During a physical first half, the Cougars led 32-31 with 2:18 left before the Spartans closed on an 8-0 run.
The Cougars’ full-court press disrupted the Spartans’ offense early in the second half. The Cougars tied the game at 43 with 15:44 left, but the Spartans went on a 10-0 run.
Trailing 65-57 with 5:21 left, the Cougars’ normally reliable free-throw shooting let them down. They missed six in a row during during a 2:40 span.
Both teams have one final AMC game Saturday before the conference tournament begins March 11. The Cougars travel to Hannibal-LaGrange, and the Spartans play Illinois-Springfield on the road.
“(The loss) makes us feel like we have something to prove,” Ballard said. “We didn’t really want to lose at home. We’re going to take that as motivation, and we’re going to roll with it.”