NORTH PLATTE — Columbus High head boys basketball coach Jimmy Motz wasn't sure how his team would respond to Thursday's 59-46 loss to host North Platte to open the Greater Nebraska Athletic Conference Tournament.
“The chips were down on the table and we didn’t know which way it was going to go,” said Motz, whose team was 4-4 and on a three-game losing streak following the defeat.
With Telegram Super Senior Michael Koch not in the lineup following a coaching decision, the Discoverers bounced back Friday to beat Lexington 60-47. They followed that performance with a 52-41 victory over Hastings in Saturday's fifth-place game.
“Our group came together,” Motz said. “We found ourselves a little bit.”
It’s the first time Columbus has won at least two games in the conference tournament under Motz, who is in his third year with the Discoverers.
“To come out of there 2-1, we’ll take that,” he said.
It was a dispiriting loss to North Platte (4-4) coming off the five-day holiday moratorium. Columbus fell behind 19-8 early on and played from behind most of the game.
“Our energy was not very good and our effort level wasn’t where it should be,” Motz said. “North Platte just got after us and made all the hustle plays.”
The Discoverers fought back to tie the game at 32-all in the third quarter before North Platte went on a 10-0 run bridging the third and fourth quarters to put Columbus back in a hole.
This time the Discoverers couldn’t come back.
Jaz Ackerson led the Discoverers with 13 points in the loss.
Without Koch, Motz decided to switch things up against Lexington (4-4) and start sophomores Cole Wilcox, Blake Edzards and Landon Thompson against the Minutemen along with Ackerson and Andy Pike.
The three sophomores gave the Discoverers a boost to get back in the win column.
“They found a spark and got us going,” said Motz, calling it a total team victory over Lexington.
Wilcox knocked down three 3-pointers and scored nine points while Thompson scored seven and Edzards added six.
Ackerson led the way again with 12 points, Pike added 11 and Nathan Slusarski scored 10 off the bench.
“We were really balanced,” Motz said.
Columbus led 14-12 after the first quarter, but really pulled away in the second period, outscoring the Minutemen 22-8 to take a 36-20 advantage into halftime.
“Our offensive flow was as good as it’s been all season,” Motz said. “We dictated the tempo of the game.”
Columbus never let Lexington make a run to get back in the game in the second half. The Discoverers still led by 15 going into the fourth quarter and held the Minutemen to 11 points over the final eight minutes.
CHS followed that effort with another solid performance in Saturday's win over Hastings (4-5), the Discoverers' second victory over the Tigers this season.
After a sluggish start, Columbus controlled most of the final three quarters.
The Discoverers trailed 13-5 after eight minutes of play, then held Hastings to 28 points the rest of the game. Columbus sliced the deficit to 22-21 going into halftime before taking the lead in the third quarter. The Discoverers led 36-32 after three quarters and continued to distance themselves from the Tigers over the final eight minutes.
Koch returned to lead the Discoverers with 21 points. The 6-foot-5 senior made only four field goals, but lived at the free-throw line, making 13 of 15 attempts.
Overall, Columbus was 19 of 27 at the charity stripe.
Ackerson added nine points for the Discoverers (6-4).
Motz will take the overall performance from his team at the tournament.
“It’s so vital to get wins,” he said.
With the brunt of the schedule ahead of Columbus in the new year, the coach is encouraged by his team’s response after a tough stretch.
“We’ve positioned ourselves well,” Motz said.
The Discoverers will try to build off back-to-back wins Friday when they play at Fremont.