Francis Marion 75, Columbus State 72: Cougars falter late again, drop 3rd game in a row

dmitchell@ledger-enquirer.comJanuary 10, 2014 

The Columbus State men’s basketball team made 11 three-pointers against Francis Marion on Friday at the Lumpkin Center. It was the four they couldn’t make at the end of the game, however, that ultimately kept it in its rut.

After leading nearly the entire game, the Cougars fell behind inside of five minutes and couldn’t recover, dropping the key conference contest 75-72.

It was their third loss in a row, including a one-point heartbreaker a week ago at Lander. Despite a strong start to the season, Columbus State has now lost four conference contests and is dangerously close to falling out of the race. Three of those four losses have come by one possession.

“We can’t keep putting ourselves in this position,” coach Robert Moore said. “Sooner or later, we’ve got to find a way to win one of these tight games.”

Columbus State (7-4, 1-4 Peach Belt Conference) had four decent looks at three-pointers to tie the game in the final 12 seconds, but missed on each of them. Junior guard B.J. Battle, who had hit two three-pointers in the previous two possessions to keep the Cougars afloat, hit rim on back-to-back tries and freshman Northside High product R.J. Sessions, who scored a game-high 23 points in his first career start, was falling away on his.

A jump ball on the ensuing rebound went the Cougars way, and they had a final look with two seconds left, but DeAngelo Kirkland’s shot just missed left as the buzzer sounded.

“It’s going to be tough,” Moore said of handling the disappointment of another close loss. “I’ve got to go in that locker room and tell them that we have to put our hats on and come to work again on Sunday.”

Before losing it in the final minutes, the story of the game was the local freshman. Sessions, who scored 29 points and hit nine three-pointers off the bench in the loss to Lander, led the team with 23 on Friday. He hit five from long range against Francis Marion, including two in the final five minutes with the Patriots closing the gap.

Once, at 50-48, he knocked down a three to make the lead five, 53-48. Moments later, with the lead down to one, 60-59, he hit another to go ahead by four.

As is common in the freshman roller coaster ride, however, a turnover inside of two minutes proved costly. On a Columbus State fastbreak, Sessions pass was taken away by the Patriots, who reverse the court for a break of their own. At the other end, Robert Carpenter hit a three-pointer to break a tie and give the Patriots a 69-66 lead.

It was their first since the opening minutes of the game, one they wouldn’t relinquish.

“It’s a freshman thing,” Moore said patiently, a hint of a smile on his face. “He’s going to make a ton of shots, but those mistakes happen to young guys. We just have to make it a priority to protect the basketball.”

Battles was the other double-digit scorer for the Cougars, notching 15, six of which came in the final two minutes.

Francis Marion had four in double figures: Evrik Gary with 20, Carpenter with 17, Luka Zivkovic with 16 and Trevonte Dixon with 11.

Columbus State goes back to work against UNC Pembroke at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at the Lumpkin Center.

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