PARKVILLE, Mo.BJ Watson scored 23 points and Xavielle Brown added 21, including 13 in the second half, but 23rd-ranked Park University couldn't hold on to an eight-point halftime lead that was double-digits early in the second half, falling 88-78 to No. 3 Columbia College Thursday, in front of the third-largest crowd (1,162) in Breckon Sports Center history. 

 

The win clinched the American Midwest Conference regular-season title for the Cougars, now 26-3 (19-2 AMC), led by Lucky Ogbomo, who scored 18 off the bench to lead four Columbia players in double figures. Park (19-6, 16-5 AMC) put three in double digits, also getting 14 from Noel Surles, and Levi Mitchell finished with 11 rebounds.

 

"They're 100-percent, definitely a national tournament team that has a chance to do a lot of winning at (Municipal Auditorium)," said Park coach Jason Kline, whose team will be the No. 2 seed in next week's AMC tournament. "I thought we did some things right, but we also took some very, very bad shots and had some silly mistakes that cost us down the stretch tonight. Take nothing away from Columbia, though. That's a team that could be fighting for a championship next month."

 

Park started hot, scoring the game's first five points, and with 11:50 left in the first half, Watson buried a three, one of three in the game for the senior guard, to put Park in front 23-12.

 

"After that three from BJ, that really got the crowd in the game, if they weren't before," Kline said. "That was as good a crowd as we've seen in a long time in this building. We owe a lot to the Park family for the kind of atmosphere we had tonight."

 

Columbia used a 9-3 run to get within five, down 26-21 with 9:38 in the half on two free throws from Preston Whitfield, but the Pirates answered, returning their lead to double digits with 6:41 before halftime, when Surles went to the window to make it 35-24.

 

The Pirates went to the locker room up 45-37 on a pair at the foul line from Zach Rutland with 34 seconds left in the first half, and a bucket by Watson 14 seconds in to the second half returned the lead to double figures, up 47-37.

 

Park let go of its lead over the next six minutes, though, surrendering a 19-7 run that had Columbia in front 56-54 with 13:34 to play, and by the 8:55 mark in the second half, Nic Reynolds had the Cougars in front by 10, making his only free throws in the game to make it 71-61.

 

Brown had the Pirates back within a single possession nearly seven minutes later, striking twice at the foul line, cutting the Cougar lead to 81-78, but Columbia went on to finish the game on a 7-0 run, securing the AMC title in the paint, where the Cougars outscored the Pirates on the night, 44-22. Brown managed 11 makes at the line in 13 tries, accounting for more than half of Park's made free throws and exactly half of the Pirates 26 attempts.

 

Rutland finished the game with six assists, but turnovers bit the Pirates in the second half, with 10 of the team's 14 in the game.

 

Thursday's crowd was the third-largest in Breckon Sports Center history, behind the Pirates win in 2007 over then-No. 1 (NAIA Division II) Mid-America Nazarene University (1,200), and the men's volleyball program's 2008 national championship win over California Baptist University (1,191).

 

Saturday, Park wraps up the regular season at 3 p.m., hosting Hannibal-LaGrange University on senior day at The Breck, a game that will air on the Pirate Sports Network at www.parkathletics.tv