After winning 14 straight games to begin the 2019-20 season, the Columbia College Claim Jumpers seemingly could do no wrong. But heading into Central Valley Conference play, head coach Rob Hoyt knew his team would be challenged more than they’d been challenged all year long.
And he was right.
Columbia began conference play on Jan. 8 with a disappointing 87-67 road loss to the Fresno City Rams. After beating Porterville (90-72), Reedley (90-79) and West Hills Lemoore (87-65), the Jumpers appeared as if they had rebounded from the loss to Fresno.
And then they played Sequoias.
While the scoreboard said Columbia lost by only six (82-76) on Jan. 22, that came as no comfort to Hoyt. For the first time all season, Hoyt was unhappy with what he saw from his players. And for the first time all year, the effort that was given was not that of a championship team and Hoyt knew it.
“We played a really good team and we didn’t give them any type of fight,” Hoyt said of the loss that dropped Columbia’s conference record to 3-2. “We didn’t have any passion, pace or pride.”
Coming off the worst game of the season, Hoyt was determined to make sure his players played with more effort Saturday night against Merced. Before the game, Hoyt tried to eliminate distractions, such as pregame music. The only song that played over the Oak Pavilion loudspeakers minutes before tip-off was the song that has been the Columbia battle cry for the previous two years: “Hard Work.”
Columbia returned to playing the way that at one time made them the No. 4 ranked team in California and thrashed Merced 104-78. And leading Columbia’s charge was sophomore Landis Spivey, who put the team on his back with a dominating 36-point performance.
“This was a big game for us,” Spivey said. “In our two days of practice before this, we were preaching effort and defense and I feel like we came out and accomplished that tonight.”
While Spivey led all players in scoring, everyone in a Columbia uniform finished the night with points to their name. Hoyt doesn’t care about the numbers on the scorebooks as much as the final numbers on the scoreboard, but he knows that with everyone scoring, that means his players were back to playing as a team.
“I want these guys invested in winning, regardless of their individual production,” Hoyt said. “We had a lot of meetings and hard practices these last two days and I think we took a step in the right direction.”
Columbia seemingly put the game away in a five-minute stretch midway through the first half. Leading 19-14 with 9:24 on the clock, the Jumpers went on a 12-0 run, with Spivey draining back-to-back 3-point baskets. Then, with a 33-18 lead with 6:35 remaining in the half, the Jumpers went on a 13-0 run that started with another Spivey basket from downtown and was helped along with three consecutive buckets from sophomore Seth Coddington to put Columbia up 44-18.
The Jumpers ended the first half with Spivey making two more 3-point baskets, along with an and-1 play. Columbia led 52-28 at the midway point and Spivey had scored 25 points.
“When he’s talking and engaged in other areas than just scoring, typically that leads to him scoring and it’s not the other way around,” Hoyt said of Spivey.
Just like in the first half, Columbia scored 52 points in the final 20 minutes. Columbia only attempted two free throws in the first half, but went 15 for 20 from the charity stripe down the stretch.
Leading 94-74 with 1:50 to play, Merced stuck with its full-court press, so Columbia continued to be aggressive offensively. The Jumpers went on a 10-0 run, which included a 3-point basket from sophomore Kaden Sparks-Davis to put Columbia over the century mark.
Behind Spivey’s 36 points, Columbia got 17 points from Coddington; 11 from Kyndle Terrell-Jones; eight from Kaleb Carter and Keith Shakes; seven from Deshawn Bartley; six from Grayson Carper; five from Kenyon Pierce; and three points from Jahbar Beard and Sparks-Davis.
“The effort was improved, but it’s not where it needs to be,” Hoyt said. “We are trying to get this thing dialed in to be playing our best basketball in about two weeks from now. We are going in the right direction, but there has to be more communication with our guys. We can’t be afraid to coach our peers in a positive way.”
Following the win, a number of Columbia players walked into the medical room for ice and treatment. With a big rematch with Fresno coming on Saturday, Feb. 1, Columbia needs all its players healthy and ready to go. But before the Jumpers clash with Fresno, they host West Hills Coalinga at 6 p.m., Wednesday at home.
“Ideally, we’d like to be healthy every game,” Hoyt said. “I’m really not even going to be thinking about the Fresno game until after the next one. Guys are going to be banged up the rest of the year. February basketball is about blood and bruises and you have to fight through that.”