UNION, NJ -- Effort and progress matter as much as wins and losses for the Columbia boys basketball team early this season.
And while the Cougars didn't get a victory out of their visit to neighboring Union High School Saturday afternoon, there was plenty of effort and hopeful signs of progress for head coach Eugene "Bamm" Robinson's youthful Columbia team in a 67-54 loss to the Farmers.
Union (2-0) ran out to a 10-0 lead, but Columbia (1-1) regrouped, closed back to within 16-13 late in the first quarter and fought the Farmers on even terms for much of the game.
"The effort, the attitude, the focus, those were the things I liked today," said Robinson, whose team won its opening game, 52-47, over Montclair Thursday night. "We have a very young team, but they're paying attention to details and playing hard."
A play in the final minute of the game symbolized just what Robinson is talking about. With the outcome no longer in doubt, and Union leading by 13 points with 46 seconds left, Columbia junior guard Chris Darcelin saw a Union player with the ball driving to the basket. Darcelin stepped in, planted himself in the lane, held his ground and sacrificed his body in an attempt to accept a charge. Darcelin hit the floor hard, and, although the call was a blocking foul, Robinson turned to his first-year starter, pointed and clapped his hands at the effort.
There are no seniors in Columbia's starting lineup. After yielding the first 10 points of the game, the Cougars kept their heads up and turned in a strong performance with flashes of brilliance the rest of the way.
Junior guard Nigel Garcia scored a team-high 17 points, junior forward Josiah Lawful had 13 points and sophomore guard Andrew Rowley scored 12 points for Columbia. Freshman point guard Jalen Robinson--the coach's son--directed the Cougar offense like a veteran and handed out six assists to go with six points.
But Union senior Andrew Sanborn scored a game-high 23 points, including seven 3-pointers. Sanborn, an All-State quarterback in football and a standout pitcher for Union's baseball team, on more than one occasion short-circuited Columbia's momentum with a deep ball.
"We played them even a lot of the game, but the difference was one kid just got hot for them," Robinson said.
Coach Robinson has entrusted freshman point guard Robinson with the keys to Columbia's offense, and the ninth-grader already performs beyond his years.
"Garcia and Jalen are as talented a public school backcourt as you will see," Bamm Robinson said. "Jalen doesn't look or play like a freshman. He's offensively gifted and I think he can run the club."
Union, which won a double-overtime thriller over Plainfield on opening night, was a challenging early-season test for the Cougars. They might not have won, but they passed the test in many ways.
"I am happy with a lot of things I saw today," coach Robinson said.