Columbia appeared to be headed for a comeback Wednesday after a late, first-half surge against visiting West Hills helped the Claim Jumpers stay within five points, but the Falcons pulled away in the second for a 68-48 victory.
Columbia's Ashton Richardson (24) glides to the basket for a left-handed layup on Wednesday against West Hills at Oak Pavilion. Amy Alonzo Rozak / The Union Democrat.
“There were times we did a good job defensively and shut them down in the first half, but I think they just did a good job of slowly grinding away and playing like they wanted to make the playoffs,” said Claim Jumpers head coach Nathan Rien.
After trailing 15-6 roughly six minutes into the game, the Claim Jumpers charged back and put together a 12-4 scoring run over the next five minutes.
Columbia’s Ashton Richardson drove to the hoop from the top of the key, made the layup and drew a foul with 12:23 on the clock. He sank the free throw to bring the Jumpers to within four, 15-11. On a later possession, DJ Muses made a spinning pass while driving to the hoop to an open Matt Iles ,who hit a 3-pointer to make the score 17-14.
Two trips to the charity stripe for Columbia and one for West Hills later and the Claim Jumpers trailed 19-18, which would be the closest they would get the rest of the night.
The Claim Jumpers went into the second half down 35-30 and the Falcons stayed a few steps ahead of them throughout. At one point, the Falcons built a 24-point advantage.
“At the start of that second half we just turned it over, turned it over, turned it over,” said Rien. “I want to say we only scored nine points in the first 16 minutes or so of the second half, and you’re not going to win any games scoring only nine points in a half.”
Despite the tough loss, Rien said he was pleased with the effort put forth by second-string players who saw more playing time Wednesday night, as well as experienced leaders.
“Jordan (Gomez), DeAndre (Winston), Camron Thornton and Mike Roberts-Freeman, I thought those four guys played extremely hard coming off the bench,” said Rien. “I thought Thomas Richardson as a sophomore leader played really hard, too. But there was definitely a lack of effort on the part of other guys, so we’re gonna turn around and try to fix that by Friday.”
Richardson called it a “frustrating night” for Columbia.
“They just came out making their shots and we missed a lot of opportunities,” said Richardson, who had two points, six rebounds and a steal. “They wanted it more. They were hungry. They came out striving and we just came out with a lack of energy and focus which hurt us in the end.”
Richardson praised the effort of point guard Gomez, a Bret Harte graduate in his first year at Columbia, and forward Winston, who scored six points, made four assists and pulled down six boards.
“I knew coming into the game that we were gonna have to fight,” said Winston. “The last time we played them it was really intense and they got in a lot of 3s, so I just tried to do the best I could to keep my man in front of me and keep him from hitting shots.
“They’re a pretty tough team, but I think we could’ve got ‘em if we played a little harder.”
Ashton Richardson led Columbia with 16 points and also grabbed a game-high 12 boards. Iles added seven points, which included two 3-pointers.
For West Hills, Michael Balogun scored a game-high 18 points while Corey Davis pulled down a team-high 10 rebounds. The Falcons were more accurate shooting free throws, going 16 for 19 compared to Columbia’s 15 for 25.
“We’re very capable,” said Rien. “And if we play smarter basketball and stick together as a unit, then we’ve got a good chance on the road against Merced and we’ll give Fresno City all we’ve got. But if we can’t put it together and play a little harder, it’s going to be a tough two games.”
Along with Gomez, former Bret Harte star Danny Radford, a freshman, and one of the Claim Jumpers top scorers, was held to one-point by West Hills. However, he pulled down seven rebounds including five in the second half.
Summerville graduate Travis Arenas, also a freshman Claim Jumper, said his first-year playing college hoops has been rewarding despite Columbia (8-16, 3-7 CVC) missing its goal of making the junior college playoffs for the first time in 12 years.
“It’s been a good growing experience,” said Arenas. “You learn and you grow with everyone — the coaching staff, the players and everyone else. We’ve all come together."