How do you beat a program that has, for two years, consistently given you trouble? Columbia College men’s basketball had the answer.
Columbia put up 55 first-half points on the way to an emphatic 93-70 win over Missouri Baptist on Thursday, convincingly breaking any cloud of doubt that may have surrounded the matchup.
Prior to Thursday, Columbia was left as losers five of its previous six games against Missouri Baptist. This game was important both to try and stop the rut and to distance itself ahead of one of its main American Midwest Conference rivals.
Fast forward to Thursday at Southwell Complex and Columbia entered on its worst run against its conference rival since 1990. But whatever had been holding it back was nonexistent as it combined robust defense and a clinical fastbreak offense to pick up a second straight conference win.
“(Missouri Baptist has) been really good here. It’s always a rival game,” Columbia coach Tomas Brock said. “They were a little depleted with a few of their best players out through contact tracing, but our guys were focused and played really hard from the start of the game.”
The Cougars’ (13-4, 7-2 AMC) poor recent record against the Spartans began on Jan. 10, 2019, in a series that Columbia had dominated with 48 wins to Missouri Baptist’s 23.
To add to the stakes, both Columbia and Missouri Baptist are vying for top spot in the AMC. The Cougars were second in the conference entering the game — trailing only Central Baptist — while the Spartans’ 7-3 AMC record had them in fourth.
No part of Columbia’s game failed it. It operated a high-pressure defense that had six steals and four blocks in the first half, resulting in 17 points off turnovers by the break.
Jack Fritsche put up 12 points in the first half, aided by nine from Jorge Bueno, nine from Harrison Vickers and eight from Tony Burks. Points came from all corners of the roster as Columbia had 20 first-half points from the bench.
Columbia kept the Missouri Baptist defense guessing. It shot 10 of 19 on 3-point attempts in the first 20 minutes, with seven different players making at least one 3. It combined that with fast breaks and drives to add 18 points in the paint.
“It felt like we were due to have a night like that,” Brock said. “We haven’t been shooting extremely well and have been relying on defense recently.”
Columbia continued to mix up its offense in the second half, driving quickly to the paint on some plays and slowing it down and moving the ball for open 3-point attempts on others.
Vickers was the most common outlet on the counter-attack and made six field goals on top of an early 3 for 15 points in total. Fritsche and Bueno continued to threaten from beyond the arc, scoring 17 points and 11 points, respectively.
“Our two seniors did a great job tonight,” Brock said. “Jack and Jorge both had excellent games for us and gave us a spark.”
But it was the AMC’s points-per-game leader, Burks, that led Columbia’s charge. The junior put up 19 points on 9-of-13 shooting on a night when five Columbia players reached double digits in scoring.
Columbia now enters a period in which it may expect to go on a run of wins. In its next four games, it only plays programs in the bottom three of the AMC rankings.
Next up for the Cougars is University of Health Sciences and Pharmacy at 3 p.m. Saturday in St. Louis.