Carrie Washington didnt say a single word during Columbus States postgame interview session Saturday night.
But she didn't need to. She had already let her game do the talking, after all.
The junior forward tied a Peach Belt Conference tournament record with 14 defensive rebounds part of her 20 total rebounds to go along with 11 points. Thanks in large part to Washingtons efforts, Columbus State knocked off top-seeded Clayton State 63-58 in the Lumpkin Center, putting the Lady Cougars into the conference title game for the first time since 2007.
While Washington didnt feel the need to talk, others were more than happy to speak on her behalf.
I swear shes the best rebounder Ive seen in the PBC, said Chatil Braford, who referenced Washingtons game against Georgia Southwestern in January, when she pulled down a school-record 27 rebounds.
She doesnt really care about the stats. She knows her job is to rebound and defend and she just wants to win games, Lady Cougars coach Jonathan Norton said of Washington. It was huge for us. The only two stats that really matter against Clayton State and that you constantly harp on is not turning the ball over so you get a good shot and then keeping them off the offensive glass.
But Washington wasnt the only player with a standout performance for Columbus State (20-7). Bradford (13 points, 11 rebounds) joined Washington in recording a double-double while Tae Smith scored a game-high 24 points. Smiths point total came as no surprise; in the teams last regular season game, which also came against Clayton State, she poured in a career-high 32 points.
This time, Smiths labors werent for naught.
Saturday marked the first time since Feb. 2, 2010, the Lady Cougars vanquished the Lakers (22-6). Since then, Columbus State had come up short nine times.
None of that mattered to Norton in the moments after Saturdays win, though.
I just couldnt be more proud of a group of young ladies, he said. They do everything we ask them to do on and off the court. Theyre first class and theyve deserved this. They worked hard and they earned it.
It wasnt a game that will be remembered fondly by offensive enthusiasts. Columbus State made just 29.4 percent (20-for-68) of its field goal attempts. Clayton State didn't fare much better, converting only 31 percent (22-for-71) of its shots.
The difference was at the free throw line.
While the Lakers were more effective (11-for-15; 73.3 percent), the Lady Cougars beat them in bulk (19-for-29; 65.5 percent).
Sometimes its better to give that basket up than to reach in and foul, Clayton State coach Dennis Cox said. So we werent disciplined in that regard today and it put us in some foul trouble.
Smith led the way for the Lady Cougars in the first 20 minutes, scoring eight points. And she saved her best shot for last. With Columbus State down 22-19 and less than 10 seconds remaining in the first half, Smith set up behind the 3-point line and let it go.
It found the bottom of the net to send the teams into the locker room knotted at 22-all.
Leveling the score with the Lakers heading into halftime was a boost for his team, Norton said, especially since they couldnt do so in the two previous meetings this season.
You look up and both teams are in the 20s and youre saying, I hope the fans dont leave because were knocking all the orange off the rim, Norton said. But Tae making that three were tied. Obviosuly we werent tied at halftime of either one of the (earlier) games with them, so you go (into the locker room saying), Golly, with your head down. But now were tied and we make a shot and we got some momentum.
With its pair of victories this week, the Lady Cougars are back on the upswing, putting their two-game losing streak to close the regular season behind them.
But to capture their first conference crown since 2001, theyll need to get past Georgia College. Though Columbus State won both regular season matchups 79-55 and 65-54, respectively all Norton focused on was Georgia Colleges play this week. The Bobcats have scored 83 points in both of their victories in the tournament, winning by an average of 16.5 points per game.
Norton was well-aware of the test awaiting his team Sunday.
The biggest challenge for us is to go get some rest, he said. Im going to be on our trainers rear end to get them loosened back up for tomorrow. Im sure Georgia College is a little tired, too. I dont think theyre extremely deep. We know we can play and beat them, but were going to have to come out and shoot the ball better.
Sunday is a zero-sum game for Bradford.
Lose, and everything else the Lady Cougars have accomplished this season would mean little.
This was just (another) steppingstone, she said of Saturdays victory. Weve had goals all year and beating Clayton State was definitely first on the list. The next one was (cutting) the nets down here. Ill take nothing else.