It’s been a tale of two-game stretches for Casius Bell Jr.
The junior transfer guard from Lincoln Trail College (Ill.) had a slow start to life with Columbia College men’s basketball. He went scoreless in CC’s first two games of the year at the Cougars vs. Cancer Classic last weekend, both losses to Olivet Nazarene (Ill.) and No. 25 Peru State (Neb.).
But after strong performances in an upset victory on the road and against an NCAA Division III opponent this week, Bell and Columbia look like they’re finding their footings.
Bell posted 21 points on 6-for-10 shooting, his second-straight game breaking the 20-point mark, as the Cougars defeated Division III Westminster College 94-77 at the Southwell Complex Thursday evening.
Scoring his first 10 points in the first half’s final six minutes on a 3-pointer, and-1 and a breakaway steal and dunk combo, Bell maintained his positive momentum after halftime. He finished second for the Cougars in scoring, narrowly behind senior forward Adam Mennemeyer (23 points).
But it was Bell that led CC in scoring in Tuesday’s 82-73 road win against No. 20 Central Methodist, scoring 22 points off 6-for-9 shooting from the field and 6-for-6 shooting from the free throw line. That game was coach Tomas Brock’s first win of his CC head coaching career and a spirit-lifting result after the Cougars dropped their first two games.
A guard from Terre Haute, Ind., Bell said the key to finding his form after a rocky start to the season came from not being as worried with the ball in his hands.
“I just looked at it like, ‘man, it can’t get worse than this,’” Bell said. “I just cleared my mind after the weekend that we had, and I just said (to myself), ‘Just go out and hoop.’ I was a little too tight. I just needed to play out there, I was thinking too much.”
Brock agreed with Bell, adding on that he thought another part of his slow start came from issues gelling with his new teammates, a problem not unlike what most of this year’s CC squad is dealing with.
“I think part of it is just being a new guy,” Brock said. “He’s a really gifted scorer and I think the first weekend, he wasn’t as aggressive as he’s capable of being. It’s also just one of those things where shooters just need to see that first one go through the net. That first one went through the net against Central Methodist, and then that’s carried over to tonight.”
Columbia, not with the tallest of rosters as just two players are 6-foot-6 or taller, had a rare size advantage against the Bluejays. No player on Westminster was taller than 6-5.
It clearly showed as CC out-rebounded Westiminster 41-33, even with the Cougars’ tallest player — 6-9 starting center Thibault Benabid — only playing 11 minutes. Despite Benabid having 11 points and being an inside force, he also had five turnovers and struggled keeping up with quicker Bluejays’ players on defense.
“It was a hard game for him because it was Thibault and like 20 other guards out there,” Brock said. “It was a hard game for him matchup-wise. But overall, we did do a good job ... as a team on the defensive glass and even had (seven) second-chance points.”
But a different CC forward, Mennemeyer, had absolutely no issues dealing with Westminster. His point total was a game-high as he went 8-for-11 from the field and didn’t miss a shot from inside the 3-point arc, plus a perfect 5-for-5 on free throws.
His showing was made even more impressive by the fact he picked up his second foul with 16:15 remaining in the first half, leaving him to work around foul trouble the rest of the game. Mennemeyer only fouled once more and still remained aggressive, going face-to-face with defenders inside and taking two charges on defense.
“(The referees) are either going to call it a charge or they’re going to call it a block; you’ve got to figure it out,” Mennemeyer said. “I can’t let the refs change my game. I’ve got to play how I play.”
Columbia has a small break until Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. when they travel to Marshall to play non-conference opponent Missouri Valley.