Swarming defense in the second half got Columbia back into the game and then clutch shooting in the final minute propelled the Claim Jumpers over the Cañada Colts 78-74 in the championship game of the Robert Dominik Fuchs Memorial Basketball Classic at Oak Pavilion.
With 44 seconds remaining in the game, the Claim Jumpers trailed 74-73 and were inbounding the ball on the Colt’s baseline.
“We had a plan,” said Claim Jumper Alston Friday. “Tony (Williams, who was inbounding the ball) told me to get the ball right back to him — because we were chest-to-chest. I did and then he took the shot right there and it was just amazing.”
Williams’ clutch 3-pointer gave the Claim Jumpers a 76-74 lead.
Cañada quickly tried to get the ball upcourt and break through Columbia’s defensive pressure. Just past halfcourt, Columbia’s Matt Iles got a hand on the ball and swatted it away for a steal.
The Claim Jumpers played keep away for a few seconds before Keith Robinson, who this season has been Columbia’s top offensive threat, got fouled with 7 seconds left.
Robinson, who drilled a clutch 3-pointer with 1:04 remaining to give the Claim Jumpers a brief 73-72 lead, cooly sank both free throws to put the game away.
“Keith’s been averaging 18 points per game but at halftime we had to have a talk with him and say, ‘Hey, it’s not about you tonight,’ ” said Columbia head coach Nate Rien. “He was taking erratic, poor shots and making bad decisions early. We wanted to pound the ball inside, inside, inside. Then he started doing a good job of getting the ball down low.
“And then when it counted, we came out of one timeout and ran a 3-point play for him, and they were hugging him. But we threw a different look at them with a double flair pick on the weakside and he hit that 3 with a guy in his face. He did a great job.
“And then Tony is just Tony. That was just players making plays. He made me look like a better coach.”
In the first half, Columbia (6-7) came out with pressure defense and jumped out to 7-1 lead before Cañada reeled them in and eventually led 39-28 at halftime.
Jalen Bourbon paced the Jumper attack with eight points and Friday added five points.
“I thought we did a good job pressuring them,” said Rien. “We pressured them early, but we got in foul trouble so we went away from it. But they’re a good team, I think. I know they’re 4-6, 4-7 or whatever, but they execute their stuff really well and they shoot the lights out. But I think we were very poised and we worked extremely hard.”
In the second half, the Colts were able to build a 15-point lead (47-32) with 18 minutes left. They maintained their double-digit lead until 11:39 when Friday made a strong move to the hoop, made the basket and drew the foul. After he converted the 3-point play, Cañada led 59-50.
Columbia re-took the lead 62-61 at the 7:24 mark when Ashton Richardson went to the hoop for two points.
From that point on, it was neck-and-neck. No team enjoyed larger than a two-point lead.
“The first half wasn’t what we wanted it to be,” said Friday “But we went to the lockerroom and Coach helped put our minds together and I told those guys, ‘Don’t get your heads down, we got this.’ And we really came together.
“Our pressure was amazing in the second half. We knew that defense was going to win the game. Our offense is gonna come, we have good offensive players, but once we get our defense going, we’re gonna get our offense. The biggest goal in the second half was to get defensive stops and we got a lot of stops. We got the win, we got the championship and I’m very proud of my team. We’ve just got to keep working hard for the upcoming league season and we’ve got to work as a team.”
Robinson and Friday finished with a game-high 17 points each. Friday added five rebounds, three assists and two steals.
Also for Columbia, Wayne Surin finished with 12 points and five rebounds, all but one point came in the second half, Bourbon scored 10 points and grabbed four rebounds, Williams netted 13 points, grabbed for boards and dished two assists and Richardson had six points and a game-high six rebounds.
Columbia also avenged last season’s championship-game 74-53 loss vs. Cañada.
“I think we had great defense at times tonight,” said Rien. “At times there were lapses and we fouled too much. They shoot, I swear 90 percent from the free throw line. They’re something like 145-165 this year. I think, aside from fouling too much, we played great defense and we played defense when it mattered at the end. We had some big stops. And we had some big-time rebounds from Wayne (Surin) Ashton, Alston ... even the guards got in there. But we did a good job of staying poised and executing plays down the stretch.”
Columbia next will open Central Valley Conference-play on Wednesday at Reedley at 5 p.m.
“I have mixed emotions about heading into league,” said Rien. “We’re 6-7 right now and we’ve lost three games at the buzzer and lost another three in the last few minutes, so we could have easily won those games. I think we’re a very competitive team. I know at the end of every game, we’re gonna be in it. The only time we’ve been blown out was the first game of the season.
“So it’s a matter of these freshmen continuing to step up and elevating their game.”