MILLBURN, NJ -- When the Columbia boys basketball team is operating at peak efficiency, the Cougars feed off their defensive pressure.
Their first quarter against Millburn Saturday was a veritable feeding frenzy.
Columbia scored the first 22 points of the game and went on to a 60-35 victory over the Millers, who committed 10 first-quarter turnovers in the face of furious Cougar pressure.
"I didn't even realize until the first quarter was over that we didn't give up a point," said Columbia head coach Eugene "Bam" Robinson. "Any time we can do that, on any level against any team, it's the result of great effort, paying attention to details and knowing the scouting report."
Columbia (9-5) got started with five straight points from guard Nigel Garcia, who canned a corner jumper and then a 3-pointer off a pass from Marques Thompkin for a 5-0 lead. Garcia fed Marcus Cosmeus for a 3-pointer and the Cougars had an 8-0 lead less than two minutes in. Garcia, who opened the game with those two baskets, proceeded to fuel Columbia's perfect quarter with his keen-eyed passing and his hounding, ball-hawking defense in the Cougars' man-to-man pressure.
With 3:56 left in the quarter, Garcia forced a turnover near midcourt and passed ahead to Luke Hayes who went in for a layup and a 10-0 lead. Garcia finished with 10 points and six assists as he shared team-high scoring honors with Cosemus and Dylan Jones, who also scored 10 apiece. Sharing, in fact, is another facet of Columbia basketball at its best.
"When we share the ball, we hit high percentage shots and we get a lot of open shots in the rhythm of our offense," Robinson said.
"Millburn runs some sets that can be tough to defend, but our pressure took them out of what they were trying to do," Robinson said.
The rest of the first-quarter onslaught included five more points from Cosemus, who banged in pair of threes in the period, another bucket from Garcia, who scored seven in the quarter, four points from Thompkin and a steal and layup from Hayes. It is telling that things were going so well for the Cougars that they achieved their 22-0 opening quarter without a single point from their leading scorer this season. Jones, who averages more than 12 points per game, did all of his scoring Saturday over the final three quarters.
Thompkins had nine points and three steals and he led the Cougars in rebounds with 10. Jones cleared six boards. Cosemus was a big spark in the Columbia press with six steals. Ten different Cougars scored.
Columbia had been playing well until hitting a snag with a 35-33 loss to Orange at the beginning of the week. The Cougars bounced back with victories over East Orange Tuesday and a tough Barringer team Thursday that Columbia will play again Monday night. That happens to be the same night that the Essex County Tournament holds its seeding meeting.
"We had a stinker against Orange, but after that we had a good film session, regrouped and beat Barringer," Robinson said. "Now we have to play them again. It's like NBA scheduling. We were supposed to play them in December, but that game got postponed because they had a trip to Florida. So I am on the seeding committee, but we are going to be playing Monday night when the committee meets."
Columbia, which completed a stretch of four games over six days, is hoping for a favorable seed in the prestigious and always competitive ECT, which will get under way with preliminary round games later in the week.
Columbia (9-5) 22 14 8 16 -- 60
Millburn (2-12) 0 12 8 15 -- 35