Peach Belt: Columbus State men face tall task against No. 7 USC Aiken

Special To The Ledger-EnquirerMarch 6, 2014 

Joe Paull Columbus State University's Jermaine Morgan dunks the ball Thursday night in the game against Carver Bible College.

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Columbus State men's basketball coach Robert Moore has no illusions about his team's Peach Belt Conference tournament quarterfinal game against No. 7 USC Aiken Friday at 7 p.m. at The Lumpkin Center.

"USC Aiken is a loaded team," Moore said. "They're one of the better teams in Division II in the country. They have good size and those players are talented inside. Their guards can make plays and they have shooters on the wings.

"There are no weak links and they have a lot of players back from a team that went to the Elite 8 last year. That's why we're facing an uphill battle. It's going to be a challenge, but it's March. Somebody has to wear the glass slipper. Why not us?"

Columbus State (14-12) comes into Friday's game off a victory over Clayton State to finish the regular season, but the Cougars have stumbled down the stretch. The win snapped a two game losing streak and CSU is just 3-6 in its last nine games.

The Cougars have also lost eight games this season in which they've held a double-digit lead. All of those losses came in PBC play and accounted for eight of CSU's 11 conference losses.

"I feel like we can match up with anybody in the conference athletically, but we just make bad plays that have cost us," Moore said. "We won our last game of the regular season, so that's a positive, but we're not playing at the level we should at this point in the season. We're rebounding and executing our offense better, but we have to hit our free throws and take better shots at the end of games if we want to win."

While Columbus State has been inconsistent in Peach Belt Conference play, USC Aiken (26-3) comes into the tournament on a roll. The Pacers have won their last eight straight games, last losing to Georgia Regents back on Feb. 1. USC AIken has won 21 of its last 22 contests and one of those wins was a 82-70 victory over Columbus State in Aiken on Jan. 4.

In that game, the Pacers led from wire to wire, hustling out to a 41-29 halftime lead and getting up by as many as 18 in the second half before cruising to the win.

DeVontae Wright led USC Aiken with 20 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three steals. Paul Larsen had a double-double with 19 points and 14 rebounds for the Pacers in the win.

Columbus State made only 25 of its 72 shots (34.7 percent) and was paced by Kenney Funderburk's 14 points and four rebounds. Jahmad Saleem had 10 points, three assists, two rebounds and two steals and B.J. Battle pitched in 10 points and five rebounds for the Cougars.

"If we're going to beat Aiken, we're going to have to hit shots," sMoore said. "If we want to have any chance at all to win, we have to be hitting our shots.

"We also have to do a better job on the defensive end and rebound the ball. Rebounding was the key to the Clayton State game and we need to rebound the ball well to win."

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