MAPLEWOOD, N.J. – The Columbia Cougars took the lead for good with a 19-4 run to start the second half, defeating the Newark Central Blue Devils 72-63 Tuesday night.

The win improves Columbia’s record to 12-3.

“We executed our plays well, but we didn’t play defense as well as we should have,” CHS head coach Gerry Hill said. “We gave up our most points of the season.”

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Leading Columbia were senior Maxim Michel with a team-high 25 points and sophomore Robert Gordon with 14 points. The Blue Devils were led by senior Brandon Waiters, who scored 26 points in the losing effort.

“(Michel) is our best offensive player,” Hill said. “He never really makes stupid plays. He is a smart player, and nine times out of 10 he will make the right play.”

Trailing by seven points, the Blue Devils put on the press and ended the first half on a 10-0 run to take the lead 34-31 at halftime.

“We didn’t execute,” Hill said of how his team ended the half. “We gave them 10 straight points, and their points were all coming off of silly turnovers.” 

Once the second half started, Michel and the Cougars took over. He scored the first eight point of the half and 12 of the Cougars’ 19 during their 19-4 run to give Columbia a 50-38 lead.

The Cougars led 55-42 at the end of the third quarter.

“(We) just have to be patient,” Hill said to his team at halftime. “We just have to pass it back and forth and progress up the court slowly.”

In the fourth quarter, Newark Central cut Columbia’s lead to eight with six minutes to go. But after a timeout, the Cougars scored the next seven points to take their biggest lead of the game, at 15 points, capped off with a pair of free throws from Gordon.

The Blue Devils would not let up, continuing to play the full court press and making it a 70-61 game with 1:54 remaining.

Out of Central’s timeout, Columbia changed up their offensive strategy, holding onto the ball as long as possible.

“I didn’t want the chance to take a bad shot,” Hill said of his late-game strategy. “The only shot I told them to take was wide open layups.”

It paid off as the Cougars ran down the clock to finish the game with the 72-63 victory.

Columbia plays Thursday on the road against Newark Tech High School.

Stephen Valenti is participating in a hyperlocal journalism partnership between The Alternative Press and Seton Hall University's Department of Communication & The Arts designed to give students real-world experience.