In what has become a disturbing trend for the Columbus State men's basketball team, the Cougars jumped out to a sizable lead against North Georgia Saturday afternoon at The Lumpkin Center only to squander it, losing 89-82 to the Nighthawks in a Peach Belt Conference game.
"Our free throws were awful," Columbus State coach Robert Moore, whose team made only 19 of its 34 free-throw attempts (55.9 percent), said. "Down the stretch in the game, we couldn't get any stops and right now, nobody is stepping up for us and making shots when we need them."
The loss is the second straight and third in the last four games for Columbus State (11-9, 5-8), which has now lost six Peach Belt Conference games in which it has led by nine or more points. It was the second such loss this week, as the Cougars led by 19 points against Georgia Southwestern before losing, 77-65, to the Hurricanes Thursday night.
With the loss, the Cougars fell out of the top four in the West Division and are now a game behind fourth-place North Georgia. The top four advance to the PBC tournament.
Columbus State opened up a 14-7 lead in the first five minutes of the game, but North Georgia (9-10, 6-7) -- which has won two straight and three of four since a 1-5 stretch -- kept things close and the teams went into the locker room tied at 38 at halftime.
The Cougars scored the first nine points of the second half -- punctuated by a Kenney Funderburk dunk -- to go up 47-38 with 17:25 to go, but the Nighthawks put together a 10-2 burst over the next four minutes to close to within 49-48.
The Cougars went on another 8-0 run to lead 59-50 with 9:48 remaining in the game, but as has often been the case this season, Columbus State was unable to land the knockout punch.
North Georgia used a barrage of four 3-pointers -- two apiece from Ishmael Hollis and Brian Cole -- to fuel a 14-2 streak and go up 64-61 with 5:36 left. A layup by Ty Harris kept Columbus State within 64-63, but the Cougars went almost four minutes without a field goal.
North Georgia was able to take advantage, outscoring CSU 15-6 and extending its lead to 79-69 with just under two minutes to go and the Cougars got no closer than five points the rest of the way.
Chris Tanzy led North Georgia with 24 points (on 8-of-12 shooting), 10 assists and four rebounds off the bench.
Funderburk was Columbus State's high scorer with 24 points, four rebounds and two steals. Shane Heyward had 15 with six rebounds and four blocked shots, DeAngelo Kirkland finished with a double-double, scoring 14 and grabbing 14 rebounds, and B.J. Battle chipped in 12 with four rebounds. Columbus State was hurt not only by its poor free-throw shooting, but also by its 17 turnovers as well.
Columbus State now hits the road for five of its final six regular-season games, starting Thursday at Georgia Regents-Augusta. Tipoff for that game is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
"We have to get ready for a tough team," said Moore. "We have to have show some pride. We still have a lot to play for and we need to come out and play like it."