No. 21 Vikings rally on the road
COLUMBIA -- At one point, it appeared to be a repeat of a year ago.
Then the 8-3 Missouri Valley College men's basketball team took on 15th-ranked Columbia while coming off a loss to an NCAA Division II foe and was beaten by 20 points at home to give impetus to a five-game tailspin. Despite falling behind by 13 points during Sunday's non-conference road tilt, the No. 21 Vikings rallied for an 81-74 victory.
"To win a championship, there's going to be times when you have to hang in there, persevere and still know you're going to win," remarked MVC head coach Chad Lance.
It doesn't hurt to have a couple of guys who can make big plays, and Valley had them in seniors Ramone Powell and Mike Atkinson. Powell poured in a career-high 30 points -- the most for the Vikings in over two years -- and Atkinson added 19 points and 13 rebounds.
"Super" is how Lance described Powell's performance this season, in which he has led the team in scoring in nine of 12 games. "He's a 'system' kid. He's not flashy, but if you put him in the right positions, he's going to do some things."
During the first half, though, it didn't look as though either would make a difference. After five lead changes in the opening seven minutes, the Cougars assumed control with a 13-1 run with three bombs from sophomore Andreas Jakobsen.
Valley couldn't find a defense which worked. In the zone, Jakobsen or junior Terrence Smith -- who drained seven three-pointers while scoring 28 points -- would shoot over it. In the man-to-man, the "help" side wouldn't arrive in time to cut off drives.
"Close-outs are key," Lance said. "Our guys do a good job [rotating], but sometimes forget one important part is keeping your hands high."
The Vikings were struggling on offense as well, incapable of getting the ball inside in their half-court set. Fortunately, Atkinson made a couple of shots and junior Seth Martin banged away for a bucket and a pair of free throws to quiet Columbia's run.
"We just weren't being aggressive coming to the ball," Lance explained. "When someone's playing behind you, you have to go up strong."
Powell's trey cut the margin to two points with 1:58 left in the half, but senior Tim Melz answered and a second-chance goal by senior Craig Bryan sent the Cougars into the locker room up by seven. Smith made three perimeter jumpers in the first seven minutes of the second half to open up an 11-point spread.
Valley chipped away. Senior John Boswell, Powell and senior London Marshall finished drives. Powell sank four free throws and a pair of threes to close the gap to 67-65 with 6:16 remaining.
"Once you start making shots, they have to come out on you and challenge those shots," Lance said. "That creates holes."
It would take another two minutes for the Vikings to complete the comeback, missing four attempts from the field and two from the line. Yet, Columbia was also blanked -- Atkinson coming up with two steals and Jakobsen and senior Malcolm Mahogany clanking the front end of one-and-one opportunities while going over three minutes without a field-goal attempt.
"We were just putting pressure on the ball," Lance said. "When people come out and pressure you," as the Cougars had done early in the game, "you either back off or pick up your pressure. That's what we did in the second half."
Atkinson got inside to even matters with 4:11 to go, Smith connected from outside to put Columbia back in front and Atkinson completed a conventional three-point play for the eighth -- and what would be final -- lead change with 2:28 remaining.
"He hung in there, never keened," Lance said. "That's what we talk about: mental toughness."
Although Valley missed four of six free throws down the stretch, Martin and senior Chris Ealim tallied and the Cougars (5-8) came up empty on their last seven shots. For the Vikings (9-3), who head to the Texas Wesleyan Classic in Fort Worth on Dec. 28-29, it was the third time this season they had prevented taking back-to-back losses.
"The sign of a good team is how you respond to a loss," Lance quoted Bobby Knight's mantra. "There are games in the season that signify how good you're going to be ... and this is one of them."