Jordan Ramirez and Andrew Belonia each posted season-high point totals, but a 13-2 burst by Columbia College aided the visitors in separating themselves down the stretch of a 71-57 defeat of Gavilan College on Wednesday in Gilroy.
“You don’t want to ever make excuses. They need to play better basketball,” Gavilan head coach Tito Addison said. “This team can’t afford to play poor. It’s hard for us to play catch-up. It’s hard for us to play with a lead. We have to get ourselves to the point where we don’t have to play perfect to win.”
Gavilan wasn’t perfect but it never let the game get out of hand, either. And to that point, the Rams (1-8) began the second half down 39-31 and fought through an 11-point deficit with buckets from Belonia, Ramirez, Justin Wheat and Zack Smith to get it to a reasonable 48-42 with 10 minutes to play.
In a three-minute span, though, the Claim Jumpers, who played just six of their 13 players on the roster due to disciplinary reasons, quickly built their largest advantage to that juncture of the game with the 13-2 spurt.
“We always give it 100-percent,” Belonia said. “Even though we are 1-8 right now, we are always progressing.”
Nineteen of Ramirez’s game-high 23 points came in the first half. The sophomore converted eight of his first 13 shots from the floor and gave the Rams a brief 18-16 lead after scoring six straight points via a 3-pointer and a nifty drive to the hoop for the basket and the foul. Gavilan slipped in front again at 25-23 after Belonia drained a deep trey for three of his career-high 13 points. It proved to be the final time the Rams held the lead.
“It just comes down to us playing better,” freshman guard Austin Vojvoda said. “I mean, we have the talent, we just need to find our chemistry and get better.”
Ramirez’s effectiveness from the perimeter and inside drew the attention of Columbia head coach Nate Rien’s defense, which limited the 6-foot-3 forward’s production after the break to the tune of four second-half points.
“Most teams are doing that (in the second half.) They aren’t letting him touch the ball. When he does get it, they are pressuring him up top,” Addison said. “That’s something that he has to challenge himself with now.”
Five of the six Claim Jumpers (4-7) who did see action scored in double figures, paced by Keith Robinson’s 17 points on 5-of-11 shooting including 5-of-9 from beyond the arc.
“We didn’t do the things we needed to do to compete in this game today,” Addison said. “But it’s nice to see the guys battle. Last year at this time, this probably would have been a 40-point loss. But they are battling.”
The Rams have three more non-conference tilts – at Las Positas on Saturday, a rematch with Solano on Dec. 21 and versus City College of San Francisco on Dec. 28 – before kicking into Coast Conference South play Jan. 4 at home against San Jose City College.
“Hopefully the pieces fall into place by the start of conference,” Addison said. “We only have one team in our conference that is over .500 right now. We just have to worry about playing better and get it going for four quarters. We have two weeks to do that.”