KANSAS CITY — Columbia College was one of the NAIA’s top defensive teams all season, but its offense went array in the national tournament without its leading scorer.
Oklahoma City beat the Cougars 81-48 on Thursday night in the first round of the NAIA Tournament in Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City.
Khamari Ballard, the American Midwest Conference’s Most Valuable Player, didn’t play because of a one-game suspension for fighting in the AMC Tournament title game. The Cougars clearly missed his ability to break the defense down with penetration.
The Cougars (32-4) shot 33.3 percent, including an abysmal 6-of-27 in the first half. They also committed an uncharacteristic 19 turnovers and handed out only three assists. The Cougars entered the game fourth nationally in assist/turnover ratio.
Andre Amos, a senior guard, said he blamed the Cougars’ offensive woes on a lack of focus.
“I feel kind of bad right now because I know we didn’t come out and play our hardest,” he said. “You can’t go out and be mad about shots being made or not being made. You have to go out and play with heart, and we didn’t play with heart today. We just went out there like we had the game won before it even started.”
Amos made a deep 3-pointer from the top of the key with 19:10 left in the first half for the game’s first points. The Cougars went the next 11:18 without a field goal.
“(Not having Ballard) was a blow, but we were out there lost,” Amos said. “We acted like we didn’t have each other out there.”
The game was a bitter end to an otherwise successful season. The No. 8 Cougars’ 32 wins were the most in school history, and they had a school-record 17 straight wins from Nov. 18 to Jan. 24.
Aaron Edwards, a junior guard, started in Ballard’s place. He said though the loss was disappointing, it was a thrill to play with a great group of players.
“Thirty-two and four pretty much speaks for itself,” he said. “I played with some greats guys like Khamari Ballard and Andre Amos, who is an All-American nominee in my book. (Amos) has played all through the year very well. I can truly say this is one of the first times I’ve played with a group of guys who didn’t care who scored. We just gelled as a team, and we played together.”
The Stars (19-11) were much more efficient offensively, shooting 53.6 percent. The Stars’ Eric Tatum had game-highs with 24 points and six assists.
“We’ve played without Khamari, and we’ve played well,” Edwards said. “We just weren’t doing the little things. We just seemed to be out of sync (offensively). That is where a Khamari Ballard comes in; when nothing is going right. He’s a big-time scorer, but you definitely can’t blame that on not having Khamari.”
Nahowan Saxon, a sophomore forward, led the Cougars with 16 points.
The Stars’ Jay Spurlock, a 6-foot-11 center, was one of the players coach Bob Burchard focused on while scouting, but Spurlock played four minutes and was ejected for picking up two technical fouls.