Basketball fans crave marquee individual matchups.
Thursday’s first-round NAIA Championship Tournament game between Columbia College and Oklahoma City was supposed to feature two of the nation’s premier scorers.
Unfortunately, claims that Khamari Ballard punched an opponent in the Cougars’ 79-65 win against Missouri Baptist in the American Midwest Conference Tournament on March 13 triggered a one-game suspension.
Ballard, the AMC’s Most Valuable Player, ranks fifth nationally in scoring, averaging 22.6. Oklahoma City’s Eric Tatum is sixth with 22.2 per game. The game will be played at 8 p.m. Thursday in Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City.
In NAIA rules, fighting results in an automatic one-game suspension. Ballard was ejected late in the first half of the AMC title game for committing a flagrant-intentional foul against Missouri Baptist’s Joe Rothweiler, but the referees didn’t classify the incident as a fight. Rothweiler shoved Ballard after the whistle and received a technical foul.
Two days after the game, the AMC’s director of officials, Jerry Pollard, reviewed the incident on tape and concluded that, in his opinion, Ballard did throw a punch. Minutes after the game, Ballard said he didn’t throw a punch, and that the contact was accidental.
Amber Cox, the Cougars’ sports information director, also saw the tape.
“Rothweiler claimed he got hit in the head, but never grabbed his head or touched his face,” she said. “You can’t really tell because of the angle of the video, but it kind of looks like (Ballard) brushes his shoulder more than anything else.
“Khamari’s claim was that he did a swim move, but it doesn’t really look like a swim move. He was trying to get untangled with Rothweiler very aggressively. It probably was a punch, but it definitely wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever seen.”
The Cougars appealed Ballard’s suspension but didn’t argue whether or not a punch was thrown.
“Our appeal was based on the fact that, at the time it happened, the officials said it wasn’t a fight,” Cox said. “The officials did a good job of controlling the situation. It didn’t escalate from there, so I think that was one of the things we were having them look at as well. It was handled very well on-site, and Khamari was punished by being ejected.”
Aaron Edwards, a junior guard, will likely replace Ballard in the starting lineup. If the Cougars win Thursday, Ballard will play Friday against the winner of Lewis-Clark State (Idaho) and Pikeville (Ky.).