Cougars Claim Ninth Conference Tournament Championship
COLUMBIA - The Columbia Cougar men's basketball team earned an automatic bid to the NAIA National Tournament on Tuesday night, defeating Hannibal-LaGrange University 80-46 in the championship game of the American Midwest Conference (AMC) postseason tournament. It is the 16th time the Cougars will appear in the national playoff under head coach Bob Burchard, and the ninth time the team has earned the automatic bid by winning the conference title game.
Tonight's win moves Columbia's overall mark to 26-6. The Cougars are ranked No. 16 in the latest NAIA Top 25 Poll. Hannibal-LaGrange ends their season at 12-18 with tonight's loss.
The Cougars defensive pressure was once again the difference maker as Columbia forced 10 turnovers in the first half, converting the miscues into 14 points and taking a 37-24 advantage at the break. The Cougars ran away with the contest in the second frame, almost doubling the score of the Trojans, outrebounding the visitors 35-24 and holding them to just nine field goals. Columbia's bench outscored Hannibal's 26-4 and logged 40 defensive stops.
Senior Henrique Medeiros led the Cougars in scoring in his last contest in the Arena. The guard scored 18 points and had six assists. Jordan Dressler finished with 14 points and a game high nine rebounds and senior Taylor Evans chipped in 13 points.
Following the contest, members of the AMC All-Conference squads were recognized. Jordan Dressler was honored as the league's most valuable player and named to the ten-member first team for leading the Cougars in scoring and rebounding this season. Senior Taylor Evans also pulled in first team accolades for the first time in his career. Sophomore Devin Griffin received honorable mention honors.
Nine out of the 13 players on Columbia's roster earned academic all-conference recognition for maintaining a cumulative grade point average above 3.0 on a 4.0 scale and were honored in Saturday's semifinal contest. Recipients from Columbia included; Ben Bowman, Jordan Dressler, Taylor Evans, Hal Payne, Zach Rockers, Tanner Sutton, Blake Walker, Brock Walker and Matt Woodcock. All together the seven men's basketball programs in the AMC had a total of 27 academic all-conference recipients, meaning that the Cougars made up a third of the total.
The NAIA National Tournament is scheduled for March 14-20 at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Mo. The field of 32 will be announced on Wednesday, March 7. The tournament is a single-elimination format featuring 18 automatic qualifiers from 12 Division I affiliated conferences and independent institutions, one host berth and 13 at-large teams.
Prior to the start of the tournament the Cougars and 31 other teams will attend the Tip-Off Banquet on Tuesday, March 13th at 6:30 p.m. in the Kansas City Convention Center Grand Ballroom. On Tuesday evening, the NAIA will formally induct Cougar head coach Bob Burchard and Mr. Clarence ‘Bevo' Francis of the University of Rio Grande (Ohio) into the NAIA Hall of Fame.