The way the Columbus State Lady Cougars' season has gone thus far, it shouldn't be a surprise their Peach Belt Conference game against Flagler Monday afternoon at The Lumpkin Center wasn't decided until the final two minutes.
What also wasn't a surprise is that Columbus State was able to get key baskets and make enough defensive stops to pull out a win, as the Lady Cougars held off Flagler for a 79-74 victory that gave CSU an 8-2 record this season in games decided by five points or less.
"Winning these kinds of games is about character and leadership, and we had both of those things today," said Columbus State coach Jonathan Norton, whose team has now won two straight and four of its last five.
"All three of our seniors (Chatil Bradford, Tae Smith and Asha Alexander) are confident with the ball in their hands. (Smith) made a 3-pointer (with 1:43 to go that made it 71-68 CSU) that was huge.
"(Alexander) and (Bradford) kept attacking the basket and both of them getting double-doubles for us shows their toughness. Having all of them doing good things gives us confidence in calling a number of different plays when we need a basket."
Things didn't start out well for Columbus State (11-4, 6-3), which found itself down 33-24 following a 3-pointer by Flagler's Rodnecia Brown with 2:57 to go in the first half. However, the Lady Cougars scored seven straight points and finished the half with an 11-2 burst to go into the locker room at halftime tied at 35.
"We weren't strong with the ball (early in the game)," said Alexander. "I missed my first two layups, and we just couldn't make any shots early. We have to have more confidence in ourselves and be strong with the ball."
The second half was a back-and-forth affair with 13 ties, the final one coming at 68-all after a putback by the Saints' Treva Mason with just over two minutes to go. On CSU's next possession, Smith got open on the left baseline and drained a 3-pointer to make it 71-68 Lady Cougars with 1:43 remaining.
Flagler (6-10, 4-5) turned the ball over and Alexander made a basket to put the Lady Cougars ahead 73-68.
A pair of free throws by Mason got the Saints back to within 73-70 with 1:08 still showing on the clock, but a layup by Alexander, a Flagler turnover and a pair of free throws by Britteny Tatum pushed CSU's lead out to 77-70 with 35 seconds left.
The Saints got no closer than five the rest of the way as Columbus State won its fourth straight home game.
"As frustrated as I was after (Saturday's win over Armstrong Atlantic), I'm pleased today," said Norton. "I thought we forced some shots in the first half, but we were able to attack better in the second half and get better looks at the basket. (Bradford) and (Alexander) just kept attacking the basket and that made a big difference for us today."
Alexander had 22 points, 10 rebounds and three assists and Bradford had 22 points and 11 rebounds to record their third and fifth double-doubles of the season, respectively. Smith had 14 and four rebounds and Dee Dee Deshazer added 11 off the bench for the Lady Cougars, who outrebounded Flagler 51-46.
Williesha Spencer paced Flagler with 23 points, 11 of which came in the first half. Shelbi Lindsey (19, 10 rebounds) and Mason (12, 12 rebounds) both had double-doubles for the Saints in the loss, which snapped a modest two-game winning streak.
Columbus State is back in action Saturday, when it travels to Americus to take on Georgia Southwestern. Tipoff at the Storm Dome is set for 1:30 p.m. and Alexander said she and her teammates still have room to improve in the second half of the Lady Cougars' PBC schedule.
"We're playing OK right now," said Alexander. "We know we can do better than how we've been playing, but once we get everybody going offensively, we can really be tough. If we can get everybody scoring, we can be an awesome team."
Norton points to defense and bench production as keys to CSU's fortunes as the season hits the stretch run.
"After today's effort, I'm going to say we're playing pretty good," said Norton. "We could be playing better defensively and we could be getting more production off our bench, but those are some things that we're going to be working on this week because there's going to come a time when we're going to need our bench players to bail us out."
FLAGLER (6-10, 4-5 PBC)
Williesha Spencer 9-17 4-4 23; Shelbi Lindsey 8-16 0-0 19; Treva Mason 5-10
2-5 12; Passhayla Williams 3-5 0-4 6; Latesha Johnson 3-9 0-0 6; Simone High
2-9 0-0 5; Rodnecia Brown 1-5 0-0 3; Parker Nayman 0-1 0-0 0; Allie Mano 0-0
0-0 0; Christina Brown 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 31-73 6-13 74.
COLUMBUS STATE (11-4, 6-3 PBC)
Chatil Bradford 8-19 6-7 22; Asha Alexander 9-17 4-6 22; Tae Smith 5-14 0-0
14; Dee Dee Deshazer 4-9 0-0 11; Ashley Asouzu 2-2 2-6 6; Britteny Tatum 0-5
2-2 2; Carrie Washington 0-3 2-2 2; Michelle Montgomery 0-0 0-0 0; Kayla
Richards 0-5 0-0 0; Kim Blake 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-74 16-23 79.
Halftime--Tied 35-35--3-point goals--Flagler 6-20 (Shelbi Lindsey 3-9; Rodnecia Brown 1-5; Simone
High 1-3; Williesha Spencer 1-1; Christina Brown 0-1; Latesha Johnson 0-1),
Columbus State 7-24 (Tae Smith 4-8; Dee Dee Deshazer 3-8; Britteny Tatum
0-2; Kayla Richards 0-4; Chatil Bradford 0-2). Fouled out--Flagler-None,
Columbus State-Carrie Washington. Rebounds--Flagler 46 (Treva Mason 12),
Columbus State 51 (Chatil Bradford 11). Assists--Flagler 12 (Latesha Johnson
3; Williesha Spencer 3), Columbus State 9 (Britteny Tatum 3; Asha Alexander
3). Total fouls--Flagler 23, Columbus State 14. Technical
fouls--Flagler-None, Columbus State-None. A-465