Cougars’ postseason aspirations still alive

Columbia College fell one play short of advancing to the AMC tournament finals.
Wednesday, March 9, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 5:23 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 4, 2008

Columbia College

seniors Aaron Edwards and Craig Bryan played a 40-minute scrimmage in practice Tuesday knowing it might be the closest they come to playing another college basketball game.

It’s amazing the difference one play makes.

On Saturday the two Cougars controlled their future, trailing by one on the final possession of the

American Midwest Conference

tournament semifinal against McKendree.

But the season slipped away.

With the winner playing next for a tournament championship and an automatic bid to the

NAIA tournament,

the Columbia College season appeared to hinge on one play.

“(That situation) is exciting really. To be honest, it’s really not that much pressure,” Edwards said. “You just want to get the ball as deep as you can, try to get a layup.”

Ever the point guard, Edwards had possession as the clock dwindled past 10 seconds. He made a hard push towards the basket, past Bryan’s screen, and tried to penetrate into the lane.

“(McKendree) had been kind of indecisive the whole game about how they were going to guard the screen,” Edwards said. “But the big man jumped out and fully-committed, and they kind of trapped me.”

The McKendree double-team came, and Edwards’ only option became finding the screener for the open shot.

For Bryan, the Cougars’ 6-foot-8-inch offensive cornerstone, receiving the pass from a trapped Edwards was routine, as was sizing up the long-range shot. Circumstances were the only difference.

“It ended up in my hands, and I wasn’t prepared,” Bryan said. “Obviously, if somebody told me, ‘Craig you’re going to take the last shot,’ I would have been ready. But in that situation I was like, ‘This is not cool.’”

Bryan eyed the potential game-winning shot but deferred, passing to junior forward Nahowan Saxon as time was expiring.

“You see the end of your season possibly if you don’t make the shot,” Bryan said, “and it is terrifying.”

Saxon’s shot never officially left his hands. The Cougars’ chance to control their fate was grounded.

“I thought for sure that was my last college game, right after the game,” Edwards said. “But we came in Monday and (coach Bob Burchard) was really confident and upbeat about our chances (of making the NAIA tournament). Now I’m kind of on the optimistic side.”

The Cougars’ destiny is being written outside of Columbia as various conference championship games across the country conclude.

After missing out on the AMC automatic bid, the Cougars need one of 15 at-large bids to play in the 32-team NAIA tournament. At-large bids are generally awarded according to the rankings in the final NAIA poll.

Columbia College will find out today if conference favorites nationwide secured enough automatic bids to open up an at-large bid for the Cougars.

“It’s kind of frustrating having your season balanced on other teams,” Bryan said. “You’re not the one that is determining the way you end your season.”

In the final poll, released March 1, Columbia College was ranked No. 27, giving the Cougars a definite shot at receiving an invitation.

Although Edwards and Bryan hope for at least one more game, both are also looking forward to a May graduation and enjoying life outside of academia.

“I’m trying to be an actor,” Edwards said. “Hollywood. I want to get an agent first before I get out there. I don’t plan on being a struggling actor, like working at McDonalds. I got a degree, so hopefully I’ll be able to manage.”

When Edwards was 15, he considered getting an agent for his acting.

“I was like ‘No, I’m going to the NBA,’” he said. “Now that I have my degree, I have the full support of my parents to really go do what I want to do.”Also the Student Government Association president, Edwards said academics were a large reason he chose to transfer to Columbia College after his sophomore year at Lewis & Clark Community College in Godfrey, Ill.

“I had some other opportunities of course. Either I didn’t like the school, (or I) liked the school and it was a bad program,” he said. “Columbia was just a chance to come to a good school and play for a good program.”

Bryan also holds his own glamorous aspirations. Ultimately, he would like to work a front-office position for a baseball or basketball team.

“I love baseball. I love basketball. I think it would be kind of cool to be around it,” he said.

After playing two years at Penn Valley Community College in Kansas City, Bryan chose Columbia College instead of his other choices, most notably McKendree.

“It’s closer to home,” Bryan said. “My parents can actually come and see me.”

After graduation, Bryan plans on spending some time at home in Kansas City before he begins graduate school.

In the present though, both student-athletes are focused on just one significant dream – playing another game.

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