It’s even rarer for a team to survive such a stretch in a fierce conference test against a fellow division leader.
Both occurred Tuesday night, though, as the Raiders withstood a scoreless stretch of six minutes, 28 seconds over the third and fourth quarters to beat Firelands 54-46 on a hot, tense night in Columbia’s gym.
Columbia improved to 15-1 and 11-0 in the Patriot Athletic Conference, while Firelands fell to 9-5 and 7-4.
The Raiders held their opponent to below 50 points for the third straight game, and coach Larry Babics said that his squad usually can get enough offense to make that kind of defensive effort hold up.
Indeed: While the Raiders entered their scoreless stretch up 41-28 midway through the third, the Falcons mustered only seven points to cut their deficit to six.
“We’re a good offensive team, but that stretch showed we’re a good defensive team, too,” said Columbia sophomore Kevin Simon, who scored 10 points. “We were able to stop them, which obviously we needed to do because we struggled on offense.”
The Raiders jumped in front by forcing 11 first-half Falcons turnovers and, after Firelands cut an eight-point first-quarter deficit to two, scored the next eight to lead 28-18 midway through the second quarter.
That spurt included two Zach Stopper free throws and a 3-pointer from David Delahunty after first-year Falcons coach Brett Bartlett was given a technical for arguing with the officials.
Babics, too, objected to some of the whistles, and the humidity from unseasonal temperatures outside forced multiple stoppages to eliminate moisture on the floor. Add in boisterous student sections from each side, and it was a wild atmosphere.
“We told our guys that Firelands was in first place in (the PAC Stars division) and we were in first place on our side, and this was as big as it gets,” Babics said. “Everybody battles us, so we were expecting that type of atmosphere.”
Columbia led 33-22 at the half after Stopper hit a three and Delahunty two free throws late, then pushed it to 13 after free throws from Jacob Simon and a bucket from Jay Banyasz.
Firelands, though, countered by better contesting the Raiders’ outside shots and scored the final seven of the third and the first basket of the fourth — six points in the stretch came from Brett Helton — and trailed just 41-37.
The Falcons could have narrowed the gap even more, if not for five missed free throws in Columbia’s drought.
The Raiders finally came alive with six straight, and led by no fewer than seven the rest of the way. Stopper again led Columbia with 21 points on 6-of-13 shooting.
“I think we could have been stronger with the basketball to start,” Bartlett said. “We might have been a little emotional at the outset, but for the most part we got good looks, some we just didn’t finish.
“Little things throughout the game mounted that against a good team like Columbia, we have to do to give ourselves a chance to win the game.”
Joe Hyster was Firelands’ go-to man, battling Columbia’s outside firepower on the interior with 16 points and eight rebounds.
Columbia 54, Firelands 46
FIRELANDS (46): Nicholas Bauer 4-0-9, James Wibond 1-0-3, Cole Sklarek 3-0-6, Casey Smith 3-0-6, Brett Helton 3-0-6, Joseph Hyster 7-2-16. Totals 21-2-46.
COLUMBIA (54): Brandon Severo 1-0-3, Jay Banyasz 2-0-4, Michael Boey 1-0-3, David Delahunty 1-2-5, Jacob Simon 2-3-8, Kevin Simon 4-2-10, Zach Stopper 6-6-21. Totals 17-13-54.
Firelands 14 8 13 11 — 46
Columbia 20 13 8 13 — 54
Three-point goals: Firelands 2 (Bauer, Wibond), Columbia 7 (Severo, Boey, Delahunty, Jacob Simon, Stopper 3); Field goals: Firelands 21-45 (46.7 percent), Columbia 17-47 (36.2 percent); Free throws: Firelands 2-7 (28.6 percent), Columbia 13-18 (72.2 percent); Rebounds: Firelands 28 (Hyster 8), Columbia 26 (Jacob Simon 8); Turnovers: Firelands 15, Columbia 9; Total fouls: Firelands 17, Columbia 16; Fouled out: Bauer.
Junior varsity: Firelands 40-36.
Contact Joel Hammond at 329-7135 or email@example.com.