It has been 16 years since the Columbia Claim Jumpers competed in the postseason, and the long awaited playoff return did not yield a positive result for Jumper Nation.
In front of a large Oak Pavilion crowd, the Jumpers put up a strong fight in the first round of the California Community College Athletic Association Northern California playoffs, but ended up falling 75-66 to the Sierra Wolverines.
“I’m just thankful that we had the opportunity to make the playoffs and play as a team one last time,” said Columbia sophomore Trevin Wilson.
Although the exit from the playoffs was quick, playing one more game than the majority of teams is a statement about the success of the season.
“This season was a huge success,” said Columbia head coach Rob Hoyt. “Although the wins are the same as last year, we were better this year and had better players. As a whole, I think we’ve grown.”
Trailing 2-0 early in the game, DeAndre Stallings and Bosten Van Der Veur hit back-to-back 3-pointers to excite the home crowd. But scoring was not something that either team did early.
Columbia reached double digit points at 13:06 when sophomore Michael Meserole scored on a baseline layup to give the Jumpers a 10-6 lead.
With under 10 minutes in the first half, the low scoring game was tied at 14.
“Early, both teams were trying to feel each other out,” Hoyt said. “We wanted the tempo to be slower and they like to play fast. We also struggled to shoot and get the ball where we wanted and Sierra did a good job.”
Sierra put together a run and pushed its lead to 24-21 with 6:26 to play in the first half.
But the Jumpers answered with a 7-0 run with three points from Stallings, two from Meserole and a shot clock buzzer beater from Jake Polack.
The Wolverines once again took the lead, but Meserole tied the game with a spinning jumper in the key and Stallings gave the Jumpers a 32-30 lead with a mid range shot late in the half.
Sierra ended the first half by hitting two 3-pointers and led 36-32.
Trailing by four, there were not too many adjustments the Jumpers had to make for the final 20 minutes.
“We knew it was a close game, but we also understood that we had to do more in order to come away with the victory,” Wilson said. “We tried to make some adjustments, but things just didn’t go our way at the end.”
Sierra came out of the locker room and dominated the first 4 minutes. Before Jumper Nation could blink, its team was trailing 42-33.
Columbia changed its defensive pressure, and much like it did in the first half went on a 7-0 run.
Van Der Veur hit a 3 as the shot clock expired, and Lewayne Grant scored four unanswered points to cut the Sierra lead to 44-43.
The Jumpers tied the game at 46-46 courtesy of a Meserole 3 in front of the Columbia bench that capped a 10-2 run, which was sparked by a full-court press.
“The plan wasn’t to press, but we needed to because of the lack of energy that we came out with,” Hoyt said. “We needed to do something different than what we were doing. The result worked momentarily to get us back into it and then once Sierra adjusted to it, it wore off.”
Columbia took a 52-51 lead following a strong baseline drive by Stallings and a reverse layup from Van Der Veur.
The two teams exchanged leads and the Jumpers led for the final time with 10 minutes left when Aaron May got behind the Sierra press and scored on an easy layup.
The 56-55 lead following the May basket was the last time the Jumpers had the advantage.
The Jumpers went cold from the floor. The shots were there, but were not falling. As the Wolverines extended their lead, the Jumpers desperately tried to keep it close but could not hit the shots.
“As long as we are taking good shots, Coach is OK with it,” Grant said. “We were taking good shots, they just weren’t falling and we just have to deal with it.”
With 3 minutes to play, Columbia trailed 70-60.
The Jumpers tried to get back into the game by sending the Wolverines to the free throw line, and for a brief moment, it appeared like it might work.
The lead was cut to 71-64 after a Stallings rebound and basket with 1:19 remaining, but, as it was in the final 5 minutes of the game, the Jumpers couldn’t hit the shots they needed. But for Polack, it wasn’t necessarily the shots that were missed that was the major issue in not picking up the victory.
“As a young group we are still learning how to close out games,” Polack said. “They hit some shots, but I think it came down to a sloppy turnover here, or a missed box out there. I think we were prepared and ready to go, but it was just the little things that we didn’t do that cost us.”
As the final buzzer sounded and the Jumpers season came to a close, the realization quickly set in that seven players are slated to return for the 2016-17 campaign and the loss will only fuel their fire.
“I don’t know if you can call yourself a player if you don’t use a loss like this for motivation,” Polack said. “This is going to stick with all of us and we are going to work hard over the offseason to come back next year and get right back to where we are now. This is fun and we want to be back here.”
“I think this is a good start for us,” Stallings said. “We battled this year and next year we are going to be ready and come out fighting.”