The meeting room was silent, as Columbia College head basketball coach Rob Hoyt slowly paced back and forth in front of the white board. One-by-one, Columbia players made their way into the room and took a seat.
After a few minutes, the final Columbia player walked through the door and sat down. Hoyt stopped pacing and looked at his team. He couldn't hide the disappointment on his face as he delivered one simple message to his players.
“I’m proud of you,” Hoyt said. “I’m not happy with the result, but I’m really, really proud of you.”
In a battle of David vs. Goliath, sometimes Goliath wins. And for Columbia, Fresno City continues to play the role of Goliath. For the 14th time in the last 15 meetings, Columbia fell to Fresno, this time in the final minute. The Jumpers lost to the Rams 81-75 in front of a packed Oak Pavilion.
Saturday’s loss was the first Columbia has suffered on its home floor and had it not been for poor free throw shooting, the outcome could have been completely different. The Claim Jumpers were not outplayed, outcoached or outmanned, they just were cold from the charity stripe.
Columbia finished the game 11-20 from the free throw line, which includes eight misses in the second half. On the other side of the court, Fresno was 23-29 and made 19 free throws in the final 20 minutes.
“I’m happy with the progress of the group and where we are right now,” Hoyt said. “I’m very, very happy with how we compete and how we are playing. That said, I’m disappointed for my players, because they had all the opportunities, such as free throws and some open shots, and they just didn’t hit them at the end of the game.”
With 1:44 to play, Columbia and Fresno were tied 75-75 after the Jumpers went on a 7-0 run, which included two dunks from sophomore Kaleb Carter and a 3-point basket from sophomore Landis Spivey. But Columbia was held scoreless in the final 1:44 and Fresno scored six points, four of which came from the free throw line.
“They are a very disciplined team,” Columbia sophomore Seth Coddington said of Fresno. “They capitalize off of every mistake you make. So, you just try to limit the mistakes and play hard.”
There’s no question Saturday’s game meant a little more to each squad than just a regular Central Valley Conference contest, and that was apparent during the introduction of the starting lineups. Traditionally, starters will shake hands with the coach from the other team. Not this time. There were no pregame handshakes or slaps on the back. This game was personal.
With 10:54 to play in the opening half, Fresno built a 16-11 lead, but in a pivotal spot, Columbia battled back by going on an 8-0 run. Late in the half, sophomore Keith Shakes came off the bench and drained two shots from downtown to excite the hometown crowd.
At the end of the first half, Columbia had a slim 37-36 lead. While Columbia played well offensively, Spivey had only five points to his name. The hot-shooting sophomore stepped up in the second half and showed how dangerous of a shooter he is, as he drained six 3-point baskets.
“The opportunities were there,” Spivey said. “My teammates were able to find me and give me the ball and my shots kept falling.”
With Spivey making shots from behind the arc, Carter patrolled the paint and scored eight points in the second half. With each made basket, the Columbia fans in attendance believed more and more that this was their night.
“We felt like we had the momentum the whole game,” Coddington said. “We were attacking them and it just turned out that they made the right plays at the end.”
Even after Columbia’s six-point loss, the players tried to remain as positive as possible.
“I think we can only go up from here,” Spivey said. “We are going to watch the film, learn from it, critique ourselves and do what we can to get better.”
Coddington added, “You just have to move past this loss. We play 30 games in the season and you can’t be dwelling on one game. You just have to focus on the next team.”
Spivey finished with a team-high 23 points; Carter finished with 13 points; Grayson Carper scored 11; Shakes had 10 points; Coddington scored seven; Deshawn Bartley had six points; and Kyndle Terrell-Jones scored five points in the loss.
Columbia will try to get back on track as it hosts Porterville at 6 p.m., Wednesday in Sonora.
“It’s tough, but if we can learn and grow in these next six games heading into the state tournament, we’ll be in a good spot,” Hoyt said.