If the Columbia College men’s basketball team could somehow bypass the first five minutes of each game, things might be looking much brighter.
Instead, it was business as usual Tuesday, as Belleview University used an early run to deflate the Cougars en route to a 70-60 win at the Arena of Southwell Complex.
After the Cougars opened the game with a fast-break layup, Bellevue scored the next 10 pointsand didn’t look back.
“It’s not an uncommon place for us,” Cougar coach Bob Burchard said. “We’ve been doing it for 11 games … It’s a killer, we found ourselves fighting for our lives.”
The Cougars never led after the opening basket, but managed to battle back and trailed by one point at halftime. But Belleview went on another run to open the second half, this time 17-6, to pull away.
Burchard started 6-foot-6 junior forward Obinna Amaefule to counter the Bruins’ 6-foot-5 forward James Mills, but to no avail. Amaefule and backup Craig Bryan both got into early foul trouble, leaving Columbia without a post presence.
Mills, who came into the game averaging 16.3 points and shooting 51 percent from the field, seemed to score at will, finishing with 15 points, seven rebounds and five assists despite sitting out significant portions of the game.
“We wanted to be real physical with him early on,” Burchard said. “But we didn’t really get it done. In retrospect, if I had to do it over again, I would’ve stayed (with our normal lineup).”
Terrence Smith had 19 points for Columbia College, but was the team’s only player to score in double figures. Three Bruins scored 15 points or more.
“Terrence was making shots, but he never really had any support from anyone else,” said forward Nahowan Saxon, who finished with eight points, well below his season average. “And you can’t expect to win games like that.”
The Cougars again struggled offensively, shooting 32 percent and allowing a 57-percent performance from the Bruins (10-3). The Cougars failed to convert on various turnovers, and during one second-half stretch, went more than five minutes without a field goal.
Despite the shooting woes, however, Columbia College pulled close multiple times, but Belleview seemed to convert at key times, staving off any potential rally.
“They kind of made big plays, big plays, at key times in the game,” Smith said. “Right when we got ready to fight back in there, they’d make a shot. That’s just miscommunication on defense.”
The loss puts the Cougars at 4-7, what Burchard called the “worst start in recent memory.”
After a trip to the national tournament last year and a Top 25 preseason ranking this season, the Cougars have found themselves in a tailspin. They are looking for a much-needed lift heading into this weekend’s doubleheader.
“We’re going to watch film and kind of sit down and reevaluate what we’re doing,” Burchard said. “We’ve got to find something we do well and really focus on that. And right now I don’t think we’re playing any phase of the game at a real high level.”