Despite a rocky first half, Columbia sinks MJC Pirates by 23

Tahj-Malik Campbell scored 15 points against Modesto Junior College.

For the first time all season, the Columbia Claim Jumpers found themselves in a fight. Well, at least for the first 20 minutes.

After running through their first four opponents without hardly breaking a sweat, the Jumpers were met with some resistance from the Modesto Junior College Pirates. At the end of the first half, Columbia had a slim four-point lead.

At the start of the second half, Columbia head coach Rob Hoyt could be heard telling his players, “It’s not about being perfect, it’s about our energy.” And while the Claim Jumpers did not have a perfect half of basketball, they did sink any hopes the Pirates had of upsetting the No. 2 ranked team in Northern California.

Despite a rocky first half, Columbia sinks MJC Pirates by 23

Columbia sophomore Mitch Prevost goes up for points in the paint against Modesto Junior College. 

The Claim Jumpers improved to 5-0 with their a 90-67 win over Modesto Thursday night at Oak Pavilion in Sonora. In regards to whether or not the close opening half was a good or a bad thing for Columbia, Hoyt doesn’t think he’ll know until he sees his team back in action for their next game.

“Will the hiccups we encountered today help us moving forward, or do we fall back and go through the same lackadaisical style of play? Are we going to do that again? I certainly hope not,” Hoyt said. “‘You learn from losing,’ is something that losers say. You can learn from everything. I’d rather win and not play ideally and learn from that. We’ll see when we play Folsom on Saturday.”

The clash with Modesto wasn’t just one team going against another. For sophomore Mitch Prevost, it was playing against his former squad. After graduating from Summerville High School, Prevost was a member of the 2019-20 MJC squad. Prevost transferred to Columbia for the 2021-22 season and this was the first time he played against the team he used to call his own.

Despite a rocky first half, Columbia sinks MJC Pirates by 23

Marcus McCutchen draws contact in the second half against Modesto Junior College.

“I definitely felt a little bit of pressure, but not much,” Prevost said. “My teammates told me to play my game and that I’m with them now. It’s just another day to get better and we are looking to go 1-0 28 times.”

On a night where the Jumpers didn’t play their typical brand of basketball, the first four minutes wasn’t an indication of that. Columbia jumped out to a 12-2 lead with points from Tahj-Malik Campbell, Marcus McCutchen and Prevost. But after the strong opening four minutes, Columbia started to miss shots and make uncharacteristic mistakes, which allowed MJC to battle back on the scoreboard.

By 5:20 to play in the opening half, Columbia’s 10-point lead disappeared and following back-to-back baskets from the Pirates, the game was tied at 29-29.

Despite a rocky first half, Columbia sinks MJC Pirates by 23

Columbia's Isaiah Jones scored a game-high 21 points.

“Our energy and our effort was low,” Prevost said. “I don’t know if it was because of the competition or preparation. We came out sluggish and it showed.”

Columbia didn’t allow the game to stay tied for long, as the Jumpers responded by going on a 7-0 run for some separation. The Pirates cut the Jumper lead to two with 40 seconds to play, but a basket from sophomore Deshawn Bartley gave Columbia a four-point lead, which the Jumpers took into the locker room at halftime.

Although Columbia had a 42-38 lead, there’s no question that Modesto gave the Jumpers a fight they were not ready for.

Despite a rocky first half, Columbia sinks MJC Pirates by 23

Columbia's Jon Mayben plays defense in the second half against Modesto Junior College.

“That punch gave us energy in the second half,” Campbell said. “In the second half, I feel that we all came together as a group. To start the game, the energy was low and we were playing against a hungry team.”

The second half was taken over by Campbell and sophomore Isaiah Jones. The two guards combined for 27 of Columbia’s 48 points in the final 20 minutes. Jones drained four of his game-high five 3-point baskets in the second half and finished with a game-high 21 points.

“I think when he’s really at his best is when he goes to the rim,” Hoyt said about Jones. “Once he started going to the rim and started making some very difficult layups, then the confidence started going and his body language improved and he started taking off. I was really happy with how he responded to a lackluster first half.”

Despite a rocky first half, Columbia sinks MJC Pirates by 23

Marcus McCutchen shoots in traffic against Modesto Junior College.

Even though Columbia held Modesto to only 29 points in the second half, and 10 of those came from free throws, Hoyt was not pleased with what he saw from his defense all night.

“I think we were awful on defense in both halves,” Hoyt said. “Modesto missed shots and turned the ball over, but I thought we were horrible defensively. We were just more athletic than them and it caught up to them.”

Columbia put the game away with an 11-0 run midway through the second half to push its lead to 73-53. Bartley finished with 18 points; Campbell had 15 points; Noel Alexander scored 11 points; McCutchen added nine points; and Jones led all scorers with 21.

Despite a rocky first half, Columbia sinks MJC Pirates by 23

Columbia's Tahj-Malik Campbell throws down a dunk against Modesto Junior College.

The Claim Jumpers may have not played their best game of the season against Modesto, but Hoyt sees no need to be concerned. He walked out of his home gym with a victory and that’s all that matters to him.

“There is going to be progress; it’s November,” Hoyt said. “There are going to be games when you don’t play well. Every year there’s going to be a little lull and it’s about understanding that, meeting with guys and making the proper adjustments moving forward and not looking back so much. The message has to be a positive message. I’m really happy that we went 1-0 and are ready to move onto the next one. But also, there’s a lot of things that we need to clean up.”

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