It's hard to win when your leading rebounder plays only eight minutes and the other team shoots 22 more free throws than you do.
However, that's what the Columbus State Lady Cougars almost did Saturday afternoon at The Lumpkin Center, battling No. 20 North Georgia hard before falling, 78-73, in a Peach Belt Conference game.
"Thirty-two free throws to 10 is an absolute crime," Columbus State coach Jonathan Norton, whose team saw a string of five straight wins and seven victories in eight outings snapped, said. "When (Carrie) Washington only plays eight minutes and (Tae) Smith only plays 21 because they're in foul trouble, it's going to be hard for us to win.
"But we still had our chances. However, when you're playing a team like North Georgia, you have to do all the little things right. We didn't and that hurt us."
The Lady Cougars were whistled for 23 fouls to North Georgia's 13, and both Washington and Smith fouled out down the stretch. The Lady Nighthawks made 27 of their 32 free throws (84.4 percent), while the Lady Cougars stepped to the line just 10 times, making four (40 percent).
Washington, who came into the game averaging just more than 7 points and almost 11 rebounds per contest, got three fouls in the first 9:32 of the game and picked up her fourth just 1:04 into the second half. She returned to the game midway through the second half and fouled out with 1:03 to go having scored only two points and grabbing three rebounds in eight minutes.
Despite the disparity in free throws and foul calls, Columbus State (14-5, 9-4) jumped out to a 17-5 lead just 5:48 into the game before North Georgia (16-4, 10-3) finally found some footing. The Lady Nighthawks went on a 16-4 run to tie the game at 21 just after Washington left the game with her third foul and the two teams spent the rest of the half going back and forth before CSU took a 42-41 lead into halftime.
Mimi Hill was North Georgia's offensive force in the opening 20 minutes, scoring 15 points and pulling down seven rebounds and Cierra Jackson had 13 as well for the Lady Nighthawks. Columbus State had four players with six or more points, with Smith leading the way with nine points on 4-of-8 shooting.
The Lady Cougars came out firing at the start of the second half, opening the period with a 13-3 run to lead 55-44 with 16:04 to go in the game. North Georgia showed its mettle, though, scoring nine straight points and putting together a 14-3 burst over a span of 3:08 to tie the game at 61 with 10:34 remaining. CSU still led 69-66 as late as 5:37 to go after a layup by Ashely Asouzu, but eight straight points by the Lady Nighthawks gave them a 74-69 advantage with just under four minutes left.
Back-to-back baskets by Asha Alexander got the Lady Cougars to within 74-73 and Columbus State had three shots to take the lead, but all of them were off the mark. North Georgia made 4-of-6 free throws in the final 1:03 and got stops on the defensive end to pull away and hold off the upset-minded Lady Cougars.
"The defensive end of the floor is what cost us this game," Norton said. "In the last 10 minutes, they pretty much had any shot they wanted. The effort was there from us and we gave ourselves a chance to win against a good team. We just didn't get the stops we needed or make the shots we needed to."
Chatil Bradford had a double-double for the Lady Cougars, scoring 16 points, hauling in 17 rebounds and handing out three assists. Alexander had 16 points (on 8-of-14 shooting) with four rebounds, Smith had 15, three rebounds and two steals before fouling out with 4:38 to go and Asouzu pitched in six points, eight rebounds and three blocks in 29 minutes of work off the bench.
The 6-foot-3 Hill had a monster game for North Georgia, scoring 31 points (on 10-of-18 shooting) with 13 rebounds. Jackson finished with 15, four steals and three assists, Jordan Livesay added 12, seven rebounds and three steals and Stephanie Huffman scored 12 and grabbed seven rebounds for the Lady Nighthawks, who stopped a slide of two losses in three games since a 12-1 stretch dating back to mid-November.
Columbus State hits the road for five of its next six games, starting Thursday at Georgia Regents-Augusta (9-11, 5-8). Tipoff for that game is scheduled for 5:30 p.m.