Maybe it was the intensity of a long-running Monroe County sports rivalry. Maybe it was the tight defense and physical play or a tough shooting night.
Whatever it was, only one player reached double-figure scoring Tuesday as Columbia outlasted Waterloo 39-33 in a game that guaranteed no offensive records would be threatened on either side.
“It’s a bummer that you don’t get to score as many points as you like as a team, but it’s fun,” Columbia guard Jonathan Holmes said after his 11 points and six rebounds made him the top scorer in the gym. “It was a fun game with the intensity out there. It’s a rivalry game, those are always fun. Always a good time”
Winning is fun, too, and Columbia (12-3) is riding a seven-game winning streak. The Eagles got eight points each from Drew Huebner, Ryan Gudeman and Jordan Holmes.
“Maybe I underestimated their physicality a little bit,” Columbia coach Mark Sandstrom said of the Bulldogs (6-10), who dropped their fourth straight. “They’re a good defensive club and physicality sometimes gives us some fits. It was a physical slugfest, but the biggest thing is it just shows us we can win in a variety of different ways.
“We can win a high-scoring game, we can win a grinder like this ... the kids are really starting to believe.”
A 9-1 run by Columbia in the third quarter made the difference after Waterloo’s Ryan Aycock tied the game at 18-18 not long after halftime. That helped the Eagles take a 27-19 lead into the fourth quarter and Waterloo never got closer than four points the rest of the way.
“That was huge,” Holmes said. “It was so low-scoring that to get a good run like that to give us a good lead going into the fourth quarter, it was nice.”
Waterloo coach C.J. Cruser agreed.
“We lost the game in the third quarter, it was very evident,” Cruser said. “We didn’t score, had some big turnovers there and a couple defensive lapses. We had some foul trouble. When we went to the bench, they got after us any more and that made it tough on the guys.”
Columbia sank eight of 11 free throws in the fourth quarter to hold on. Waterloo got within 31-27 on a 3-pointer by Max Schrader with 2:37 remaining and Aycock kept it close at 33-29, but the Bulldogs couldn’t get any closer.
Schrader led Waterloo with nine points while Sam Dodd had eight and Aycock had seven.
For a while it seemed like the teams might not even reach the score of their football game played back in the fall, which Waterloo won 27-24. Columbia led 16-15 at halftime as the teams combined to hit just 12-of-37 shots during that span and 23-of-68 on the night (34 percent).
Holmes said defense has been a big part of the seven-game streak.
“We’ve been playing our best defense of the year for the last three weeks,” he said. “It’s just been awesome on the defensive end, holding teams to 40 and below. That’s what’s gotten us that seven-game win streak is us playing as a team, as a unit.”
Cruser is looking for more offense from a team that has far too small of a margin for error. Tuesday marked the fourth straight game where the Bulldogs failed to surpass 33 points.
“We haven’t given up 40 in any of them and lost them all, so defense isn’t the problem,” Cruser said. “We battled enough and gave ourselves a chance, we just couldn’t muster up enough buckets.”
Columbia got 17 points from Kaylee Bastien and 10 each from Taryn Pena and Kalli Farmer. Waterloo sophomores Kathryn Finnerty and Jessica Whiteside each were the top scorers on the night with 18 points apiece.
Finnerty sank a pair of free throws with 13.6 seconds remaining, but the Bulldogs were unable to get anything else going as Columbia hung on.