KANSAS CITY, Mo. - (Box;video) Columbia (Mo.) claimed a 58-52 victory over Montana State-Northern on Wednesday evening in the opening round of the 2012 Buffalo Funds-NAIA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship at Municipal Auditorium.
Junior forward Jordan Dressler scored a game-high 20 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for Columbia, which advances to the quarterfinal round to take on the winner of No. 2 Oklahoma Baptist and Belhaven (Miss.) on Friday at 6:15 p.m. CDT. Devin Griffin and Henrique Medieros each tossed in 13 points for the Cougars, who made only 1-of-6 three-point attempts, but converted 15-of-23 at the free throw line and had just six turnovers.
"We kept talking to our team about being stubborn," said Columbia head coach Bob Burchard. "It seemed like we were down one for an eternity. We had four or five cracks at it and didn't get on top. At no point in time did (our kids) put their chin on their chest. They just hung in there and were really stubborn. Jordan had a great game. I thought he and Henrique really showed what they have together. They really played together."
The Lights' Shaun Tatarka broke open a close game in the first half with back-to-back three-pointers , followed by another trey by Devin Jackson at the 7:23 mark to complete a 12-4 run and give the Lights a 22-10 lead.
The Lights held a 36-28 lead at the 17:04 mark of the second half before the Cougars locked down on defense while getting their offense on track. Medeiros hit a three-pointer at the 16:47 mark that ignited a 13-1 run over 7:54 to give the Cougars a 41-37 advantage. MSU-Northern went almost 10 minutes without a field goal until LaVon Myers scored inside with 7:35 to play.
Columbia twice led by five points inside the three minutes, the second time coming on a short jumper by Dressler with 1:49 remaining. Following a turnover by the Lights' Devin Jackson, Tatarka swiped the ball from Marquette Murrell and stepped up to hit a three-pointer to make it 54-52 with 1:14 to play.
Dressler missed a second field goal from close range with 58 seconds left, but Joe Simpson also failed to convert on the next time down. Columbia hit four free throws down the stretch to hold on for the victory.
Montana State-Northern finishes its season with a record of 27-7 and was led by Tatarka with 15 points and Myers with 14 points.
Columbia - The Cougars are making their 16th national tournament appearance ... Columbia has now won nine-straight games and 15 of its last 16 games heading into the tournament ... Today's victory improves Columbia to 8-15 overall and 5-11 in opening-round games ... Columbia has now won two of its last three opening-round games at the national tournament after a streak of 6-straight losses ... Junior forward Jordan Dressler scored at least 20 points for the seventh time this season ... By limiting MSU-Northern to 54 points, the Cougars improved to 12-0 on the season when holding the opposition to 55 or fewer points.
Montana State Northern - The Lights are making their sixth national tournament appearance and second consecutive ... The loss in the opening round was the third in as many visits for MSU-Northern dating back to the 2009 tournament ... The Lights entered the game ranked first in the NAIA overall in both scoring defense per game (58.0) and scoring margin (+20.4).