MERCED Normally, people receive presents on their birthdays. Last night, Columbia College center Ben Hibbing reversed form and gave the Claim Jumpers a big lift and gift on his 20th birthday.
With Hibbing scoring a career-high 27 points and Derek Olich adding 23, Columbia (18-10, 8-3 Central Valley Conference) survived a late scare and held on for a 98-93 victory over the Merced Blue Devils.
Led by Hibbing's herculean 12-for-13 effort, Columbia shot 67 percent from the floor (38-for-57) and led by 18 points with 5:25 to play before the Blue Devils made a mad dash for the finish line.
Jarreau Rasheed (32 points) and Jerome Davis (19) scored 19 points apiece in the second half, allowing Merced to cut Columbia's lead to five points with 1:31 remaining before the Jumpers were able to ice the game at the free-throw line.
"This is a hard place to win and (Merced) never quits," Columbia coach Andy Vasher said. "I think everybody was a little comfortable with our lead."
After Merced (13-14, 4-7) cut its deficit to 90-85, the Blue Devils picked up their seventh team foul and sent Columbia to the line eight times in the final 1:16, and the Jumpers made six of their foul shots. For the game, Columbia finished 17-for-19 from the free stripe, while Merced shot 21-for-30.
Before Columbia was forced to hold off the streaking Blue Devils, the Jumpers appeared to have the game well in hand. Hibbing started off hot, scoring 11 points in the first half on 5-for-5 shooting from the field and 1-for-1 accuracy from the line even though he played just 6:09 after picking up two quick fouls.
Despite his long absence, the Jumpers managed to take a 44-33 lead into halftime with Olich scoring 13 and Collin Terry 10 of his 16 points in the first 20 minutes.
Hibbing returned at the beginning of the second half and ran his streak to nine straight successful shots before he missed on his 10th attempt.