When you're playing the No. 7 team in the country -- regardless of the sport or level of competition -- you can ill afford mistakes if you want to win.
Columbus State's women's basketball team learned that lesson the hard way, as offensive and defensive struggles played a big role in the Lady Cougars' 79-69 loss to No. 7 Clayton State in a Peach Belt Conference game at The Lumpkin Center Tuesday night.
"We're playing hard, but we're not always playing smart," said Columbus State coach Jonathan Norton, who earned career win No. 200 Saturday when CSU beat Montevallo.
"On the defensive end, we had breakdowns, whether it was going for a steal and missing, not forcing a player to go left when the scouting report said to, or just not rebounding. Offensively, we couldn't get anything going consistently. We had a lot of folks playing timidly on the offensive end tonight."
Clayton State (6-1, 2-0) -- despite struggling on the offensive end itself -- jumped on Columbus State early and led 30-18 with 4:14 to go before halftime, but the Lady Cougars (6-2, 1-1) put together a 14-4 run to go into the locker room only down 34-32.
Chatil Bradford led the way for the Lady Cougars with nine points and six rebounds in the opening 20 minutes and Asha Alexander added seven points and five rebounds of her own.
Bradford tied the game at 34 with the first basket of the second half, but the Lakers scored 10 of the next 11 points to open up a 44-35 advantage. The Lady Cougars closed to within 44-40 on a Britteny Tatum basket with 13:49 remaining, but Clayton State mashed the accelerator and ripped off a 21-8 run over the next 4:46 to go up 65-48 and seemingly take control for good.
However, Columbus State had one more run in it and chipped away at the Lakers' lead, getting as close as 70-64 after a Tae Smith jumper with 3:20 still to go in the game.
Clayton State slammed the door, though, by getting the next five points to secure a 75-64 advantage and cruise to the win.
"It's still a little early in the season, but the frustrating thing about this loss is now we have a long break and we have to wait to fix the things we need to work on," said Norton, whose team had 23 turnovers in the loss.
"I see lots of areas that we need to improve on, including shooting -- both inside and behind the 3-point line -- as well as free throws. But that's something they have to work on themselves because practice is more about scouting reports and analysis than continuing to do lots of shooting drills.