CSU win earns Cougars share of PBC West title

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COLUMBUS, Ga. – The Columbus State University men’s basketball team played its best second half of the year when it needed it most as the Cougars defeated Georgia Southwestern 88-75 Wednesday in the season finale. The Peach Belt Conference game took place inside the Lumpkin Center.

With the win, the Cougars clinched a share of the PBC West Division title for the second consecutive season. The west ended in a five-way tie with CSU, Clayton State, Montevallo, North Georgia and Young Harris all finishing the year with 11-8 conference marks.

After all the tiebreakers, the Cougars (18-8, 11-8 PBC) will be the second seed in the PBC Tournament and will host USC Aiken Saturday.

“Give the guys credit tonight because we got in a deep hole and had to play our best ball to win it,” said head coach Robert Moore. ” We really clicked on both sides of the court in the second half and forced Georgia Southwestern into mistakes.

“I’m proud of how the regular season played out, but the real season begins Saturday and I’m thrilled that we get a game on our home floor.”

It took both sides a while to settle into the game as the Cougars held just a 5-4 lead at the 16:45 mark after Darius Joell hit a 3. However, things fell apart for the Cougars from there.

Over the next five and a half minutes, Georgia Southwestern (7-19, 5-14) went on an 18-3 run to build a 14-point lead at 22-8. The Hurricanes were perfect from then field during the spurt going 7-for-7, including 4-for-4 from long range.

The lead was still at 35-23 with under five in the half until the Cougars finally got their offense going. In the final three minutes of the half, CSU outscored Georgia Southwestern 10-2 to make it just a 37-33 game at the break. JaCori Payne had four points, including hitting a shot at the buzzer.

Starting the second half, the Cougars scored the first six points to take a 39-37 lead. Ryan Burnett started an amazing second half with a 3, while a dunk from Marcus Dixon put the Cougars in front for the first time since the 17:12 mark in the first half.

The two sides exchanged buckets for a while until a dominant stretch by the Cougars. With the Hurricanes up 53-50, Arben Camaj hit a jumper that begin a quick 7-0 Cougar run that put CSU ahead 57-53 with 11:16 to play.

GSW would survive the initial CSU run keeping it just a two-point game after knocking down a 3-pointer from the corner. However, a 3 from Payne jumpstarted an 8-0 Cougar run that saw the lead balloon to 70-60 with under eight to play.

Over the five-plus minute stretch, the Cougars put together a 20-7 run going 8-for-11 from the field.

The Cougars would coast from there. The Hurricanes did make it a five-point game after hitting three free throws with under five to play, but the Cougars iced the game with a 10-0 spurt that made it a 86-71 game before going on for the win.

All five Cougar starters scored in double figures led by Burnett’s season-best 18 points. The graduate student was 6-for-11 from the field, including 5-for-8 from 3. Seventeen of Burnett’s 18 points came in the second half.

Joell had 17, while Payne (15), Camaj (13) and Dixon (10) were the other players in double digits. Payne ended the night with eight assists.

As a team, CSU shot 52.7 percent (29-for-55) including 12-for-23 (52.2 percent) from 3.

Georgia Southwestern shot 45.6 percent (26-for-57) overall and an even 50 percent (11-for-22) from long range.

Columbus State will host the PBC Tournament Quarterfinal matchup on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against USC Aiken inside the Lumpkin Center.COURTESY CSU SPORTS INFORMATION

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