When Columbia College (Mo.) took the court for warm-ups in preparation for its NAIA Tournament first-round game against Azusa Pacific, Burgess didn’t blink. He didn’t wander in his imagination. Even though Columbia had just 2 players who barely stretched out at 6-foot-6 in stature, Burgess didn’t lick his chops just because he was 4 inches taller.
“I’ve learned from so much experience that you never underestimate your opponent,” said Burgess, “especially playing in the GSAC.”
So in spite of the fact that Columbia was missing 3 suspended players, all of whom were 6-foot-5 or taller, Burgess played with a purpose and led a Cougar frontline that throttled Columbia’s undermanned unit, propelling Azusa Pacific to a 61-47 victory during the opening day of action at the NAIA Tournament in famed Municipal Auditorium.
Burgess teamed with forwards Davon Roberts and Todd Martin to account for over half of the Cougars’ points and rebounds Thursday afternoon. The frontline trio, which goes 6-10 (Burgess), 6-7 (Martin) and 6-5 (Roberts) combined for 32 points and 29 rebounds against a pair of Columbia posts that stood 6-6 and countered with just 6 points and 6 rebounds.
“I understand that when a team doesn’t have much of a scout on us they look at me and immediately think they have to take me out,” said Burgess, “but that plays to our advantage because they don’t realize that Davon, the shortest of us 3, is going to kill you inside.”
Roberts posted his eighth double-double of the season, tallying 15 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Cougars. Interestingly, though, he didn’t score his first points until 4 minutes left in the first half, but that bucket sparked an 11-0 run that got Azusa Pacific going in the right direction after a sluggish start.
“Being a senior leader it's my duty to kick start us,” said Roberts. “After my first basket went in all the butterflies went away.”
Indeed the Cougars looked nervous at the start. Though deliberate in its style, Columbia scooted out to a 22-15 lead with 6 minutes left in the first half. The Cougars of Missouri made a trio of treys and thwarted Azusa Pacific at the opposite end of the court.
Senior guard Matt Oliver banged home 3-ball, and Roberts followed with 4 straight jumpers in the key to give Azusa Pacific a 26-22 lead before settling for a 26-25 advantage at halftime.
“He is the guy that we follow,” Azusa Pacific coach Justin Leslie said of Roberts. “When Davon picked up his energy level and started playing, the guys around him begin to take advantage of the opportunities presented them, such as Dave Burgess getting offensive rebounds.”
Azusa Pacific out-rebounded Columbia by whopping 54-32 count. The Cougars had 19 offensive rebounds and held Columbia to just 6 second-chance opportunities.
We knew the offensive rebounds were there for the taking,” said Burgess, who grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds, including 7 on the offensive end. “Davon, Todd and me just kept attacking, attacking, attacking. We tipped against the rim or the glass until one of us got it to go in or got fouled.
Azusa Pacific played poorly in the first half, missing 19-of-30 shots and committing 11 turnovers.
“The first half was pretty frustrating,” said Leslie. “We were rusty from a week-and-a-half layoff. We didn’t execute nearly as well as we needed to, but on the flip side we defended and rebounded well. When you out-rebound a team 27-13 in a half and play as bad as we did and are still up a point, well then we had a lot of things to look forward to if we just cleaned up a few things on the offensive end.”
So Martin provided the cleaning solution.
Azusa Pacific used a 9-0 run early in the second half to assume a 37-30 lead that it never relinquished. Roberts hit back-to-back short jumpers in the key to spur the run and give the Cougars the lead for good. Martin followed with his first basket of the game, and when freshman David Stafford had his 3-pointer bounce all over the rim and finally through for his only basket of the game, Azusa Pacific found itself in control and up by seven.
Martin made 5-of-7 shots in the second half, including a pair of 3-pointers. His second trey pushed Azusa Pacific’s lead to 15 at 49-34 and capped a 12-2 Cougar run which seemingly finished off Columbia with 6 minutes left in the game.
Neither team shot well – Azusa Pacific just 34-percent and Columbia a paltry 29-percentage -- but Columbia could never muster a comeback because of several one-shot possessions in the second half
“We won a game in which we shot 34-percent from the floor,” said Leslie. “That’s gross. But it’s a win and I’m thankful that we get the opportunity to play again. In the second half we kept grinding and playing our style of physical ball – going to the offensive boards and taking the ball strong to the basket.”
Columbia was paced by Trae Hall’s 12 points. His 3-pointer less than 3 minutes into the second half gave Columbia a 30-28 lead, its last advantage in the game.
“We just missed having extra bodies out there,” said Columbia coach Bob Burchard. “We came out in the first half like we really wanted it, but when the second half came and shots just didn’t fall for us, we had no answer.”
Columbia’s 44 points are the fewest scored in the NAIA Tournament since Saint Xavier University (Ill.) scored just 40 in a first round loss to Carroll College (Mont.) in 2006.
With the victory Azusa Pacific improves to 23-10 on the season and advances to the “Sweet 16” of the NAIA Tournament for the fifth straight year and the seventh time in the past 8 years. The Cougars will take on the tournament’s fourth-seeded LSU-Shreveport (31-2) Friday (March 21) at 8:45 a.m. (PDT).
“I’ve played against Louisiana boys,” said Burgess. “They are rough, rugged and athletic. They have a big kid in there too. He looks like a load. They probably played football too and know how to bang.”
Spoken like a man who has learned well – take no one lightly.