SACRAMENTO – After winning the first two games of the season, the Columbia College basketball team hit the road for the first time. However, this road trip was unlike any other Columbia has ever experienced.
When the Claim Jumpers squared off with the American River College Beavers, Hutchinson Gym in Sacramento was completely empty. With the gym close to the public due to COVID-19 protocols, there was zero atmosphere for either team to feed off of.
Even with nobody in the gym to see it, Columbia improved to 3-0 with a dominating 94-60 win over American River Wednesday night.
“We knew we were going to play in front of nobody, so we knew that we’d have to get energy from ourselves,” Columbia’s Aurrion Harris said.
For head coach Rob Hoyt, Wednesday answered a number of questions he had. He wanted to know how his team would play on the road and he wanted to know if playing in front of nobody would be a factor. He also wanted to see how his team would do against an American River squad who picked up a win over powerhouse Fresno and put together a solid game against Sequoias. Both teams are going to give Columbia a fight for the top spot in the Central Valley Conference.
“It was more of a challenge, because you’re on the road for the first time, you’re in an empty gym and I didn't know if that was going to be a negative or positive, because we’ve never done it,” Hoyt said. “It’s interesting that you are playing a team early in the year who already played two of the better teams in our conference. But the matchups are completely different and you can’t gauge it like that. Knowing that they beat one of the better teams in our conference probably grabbed our guys' attention a little more than if it didn’t happen.”
Even though the Jumpers beat the Beavers by 36, it took them a while to find themselves offensively. On a night where Columbia was six points away from 100, it took the Jumpers nearly 10 minutes to score 10 points.
“We can show them film and we can prepare for it, but they have to experience it,” Hoyt said about the slow start Wednesday night.
Once the Jumpers started to figure out what they could take away from the Beavers, the points began to add up. With a 14-10 lead, Columbia went on a 10-3 run for some separation. The Jumpers ended the first half by outscoring the Beavers 13-4 and led 39-22.
“Coach said they were a good team because they beat Fresno, so we expected to play a really good team and we came out playing really hard,” Harris said.
Wednesday was the season debut of sophomore Daniel Rico, who missed the first two games with an injury. Rico scored all seven of his points in the opening 20 minutes and impressed Hoyt when he was on the floor.
“He's a spark with energy and heart,” Hoyt said about Rico. “I didn’t know what to expect from him to be honest. He was in there grabbing rebounds, knocking guys down and finishing at the rim. He sees things before it happens, which is a gift. The best part of everything was that we didn’t know if he was going to play at all this year. We thought he wasn’t and then he got this new lease on his basketball life and he took advantage of it.”
Columbia had no problem adding points to the scoreboard in the second half. After being held scoreless in the first 20 minutes, sophomore Deshawn Bartley scored 14 points, which included going 6 for 6 from the free throw line. Like Bartley, all of sophomore Mitch Prevost’s 10 points came in the second half.
The Jumpers outscored the Beavers 55-38 in the final 20 minutes.
Sophomore Isaiah Jones scored a game-high 20 points; Bartley scored 14; sophomore Noel Alexander scored 13; Marcus McCutchen scored 12 points; and Prevost added 10 points in the win.
In three games this season, Columbia has won by an average score of 88-63. And although the Jumpers have yet to be challenged, Hoyt has seen first-hand what his players go through every day during practice and knows they’ll be ready for whatever team is on their schedule.
“You just play your schedule and try to beat everybody,” Hoyt said. “If you do, great. If you don’t, great. We hit adversity every day in practice when we have to play against each other. We’ll be ready for whoever comes.”