Football experts often say great defense beats great offense. Columbia College proved Thursday the theory applies to basketball as well.
The No. 25 Bearcats (24-9) entered Thursday first in the AMC and sixth nationally in scoring, averaging 88.6 points per game. The Cougars (31-3) are first in the AMC and seventh nationally in scoring defense, giving up 62.9 per game.
Bob Burchard, the Cougars’ coach, said his team’s defensive effort was the difference.
“You know, they’re scoring 90 a game, and to hold them to half of that was just phenomenal,” he said. “They’re a really good basketball team.”
The No. 8 Cougars advance to the AMC Tournament final at 7 p.m. Saturday against Missouri Baptist, which beat Hannibal-LaGrange 91-76 in the second round. The Spartans beat the Cougars 84-73 on March 4, handing the Cougars their lone home loss. The Cougars and Spartans tied for the regular-season AMC title, but the Spartans will host the final in St. Louis because of their superior AMC road record.
Khamari Ballard, who led the Cougars with 20 points, said his team must play physically to beat the Spartans.
“I don’t know how much (winning the tournament) means to the other guys, but me and (Andre Amos) are the only two seniors, and we were in the same game last year and we lost,” he said. “We’re just trying to redeem ourselves and at least try to get a conference championship.”
The Cougars’ 31 wins sets a new school record. Burchard’s 1989-90 and 1990-91 squads each won 30.
Cougars claw to the top
The Cougars outrebounded the Bearcats 38-31 despite being undersized at nearly every position. Nahowan Saxon, a sophomore forward, said the Bearcats’ inside strength didn’t intimidate him or his teammates.
“Last night, I didn’t get to bed until 4 (a.m.), I was so ready to play,” he said. “Last time I played these guys I had a terrible game, so I was really looking forward to this one.”
Saxon scored 18 on 8-of-11 shooting, but Burchard seemed even more impressed with his hustle and ability to draw charges. With 5:42 left, Saxon soared above the Bearcats for a rebound and forced a jump ball after crashing to the floor. The play had Burchard smiling and raising his fists in delight.
“There are some plays that just make you go, ‘Wow,’” Burchard said. “Those are separation plays. Those are the kind that say, ‘Not going to happen. I’m not going to let it happen.’”
Amos had a subpar shooting night, missing all five of his 3-pointers, but played outstanding defense. Amos, who is 10th nationally in steals, had a game-high five steals and matched up best with Jeff Suelmann, who led the Bearcats with 15 points.