COLUMBIA — Waterloo coach C.J. Cruser had a simple, subtle answer ready if someone would have asked how his Bulldogs would have fared Friday night, if their first two-point field goal came with 4 minutes, 6 seconds remaining in the first half.
"The way we've shot it at times, I might have thought we were being shut out," Cruser said.
The Bulldogs didn't seem to be too alarmed with the lack of two-point field goals, because they were raining 3s against the host Columbia Eagles.
Junior Ryan Aycock led the change, hitting on 4 of 5 3-point attempts, as the Bulldogs connected on eight of them in the first half.
They rode the long ball to a 67-36 victory against the Eagles in the semifinals of the Columbia-Freeburg Holiday Tournament.
The Bulldogs (4-4) hit 5 of 7 from downtown in the first quarter, and their first eight field goals came from behind the arc.
They jumped out to a 16-4 first-quarter advantage and led by as many as 21 (34-13) by halftime to punch a ticket into Saturday's championship game.
"We've struggled (shooting) at times," Cruser said. "We shot a lot today. In walk-throughs, we shot a lot.
"We came here last year and went 1-for-16 from the arc and I said, 'They're going to pack it in until you guys make some shots and you're going to be pitching horse.' We literally shot a lot today, pitching horse. They shot the lights out. I was very pleased with the way we shot it. That loosened them up and we were finally able to get some twos. But we had to make some shots."
The Eagles (4-4), who got nine points from sophomore Korbin Farmer,will play for third place after coming out ice cold from the floor and proving turnover-prone against the Bulldogs' suffocating defense.
"I'm glad we could bring our hard hat all the time," Cruser said. "We went over Columbia's stuff really good today. I felt good about what we did walk-through wise.
"I was just worried if we were going to come out and shoot it well and we did. The defense played well again tonight. I'm very pleased with the defense."
The first half was as perfect as it could get for Waterloo, which shot 11-for-23 for the half and only turned the ball over twice. Its defense forced 10 first-half turnovers and 19 for the game.
The Bulldogs, who also got 12 points off the bench from senior Jonny Albers and 10 points from senior Shane Lenhardt, were feeling it from the floor early and often. Aycock led the charge.
"I've actually been in a slump where I haven't been hitting," Aycock said. "I was pretty good in the first part of the year, but then I just started shooting in the gym and broke out of it in this tournament.
"It was fun watching everybody shoot. It was a good time."
The Bulldogs will face the Marquette Explorers in the championship game at 8 p.m. Marquette (9-2) downed the Freeburg Midgets 41-31 behind 17 points and 16 rebounds from senior Deion Lavender.
The Explorers, who led by as many as 18 in the fourth quarter (39-21), held Freeburg leading scorer Justin Diecker to nine points (all in the second half.)
The tournament hosts will play the Midgets (4-6) for third place at 6:30 p.m.
In the consolation bracket, the Civic Memorial Eagles won a pair of games to move into the 5 p.m. consolation championship.
The Eagles downed Dupo 70-49, then knocked off the Metro-East Lutheran Knights 56-39 to improve to 5-6 on the season.
Civic Memorial will face Hillsboro, a 68-59 winner over Lovejoy in the other consolation semifinal. The Hiltoppers also won two games to gain entry into the consolation championship.
Hillsboro defeated Lebanon 48-32 to send the Greyhounds into the 10th-place game at 2 p.m., where they'll face Dupo. The Knights will play in the seventh-place game at 3:30 p.m. against Lovejoy.