Columbus State men’s basketball coach Robert Moore said his team is playing a 12-game season, its remaining regular-season schedule.
If that’s the case, then the Cougars are 1-0 after a big 89-74 win against Armstrong Atlantic on Saturday at the Lumpkin Center. A team that has been plagued by an inability to close out opponents in conference play, Columbus State finally showed its killer instinct as it pulled away from the visiting Pirates.
“I thought the guys did a great job focusing and finishing down the stretch,” Moore said. “We gave up a couple here and there, but I thought they handled adversity well.”
The win helped the Cougars (9-6, 3-5 Peach Belt) rebound from a loss against Young Harris their last time out. That loss was by four points, making it four times in conference play that Columbus State has lost by four or fewer points.
With the exception of a couple runs by Armstrong in the first half to close the gap, however, the Cougars never really ceded control of the game on Saturday. They went into the second half with a 10-point lead and extended that to as many as 13 at various points down the stretch.
Armstrong was never closer than seven in the second half, and Columbus State was able to find success from the charity stripe to keep the Pirates at bay. It shot 29 of 37, 78.4 percent, more than making up for a so-so game from the field.
“Our goal is to shoot 70-plus percent on free throws and turn the ball over less than 10 times,” Moore said. “If we can do that, we’ll win some games.”
The Cougars turned it over 11 times on Saturday, not quite 10 but successful nonetheless.
The team was led by Kenney Funderburk, who is still recovering from an injury. Funderburk, the team’s leading scorer at 16.1 per contest this season, scored 22 points on Saturday. He said after the game that he is starting to feel more comfortable coming off the injury.
“I think I’m getting comfortable, more than anything,” he said. “The injury set me back, but now I’m more comfortable. I think the team feeds off of me, and I feed off the team.”
He was helped by B.J. Battle and Shane Heyward’s 14 points. Heyward also grabbed 10 rebounds.
While Armstrong did adjust and slow him down in the second half, Heyward played a big part in giving Columbus State its significant advantage at halftime. Thirteen of his points and nine of his rebounds came before the break, leading the team in both categories.
Now the Cougars head into a game against Flagler on Monday in hopes of starting a winning streak and gaining momentum down the stretch. Funderburk said he thought the team’s performance on Saturday was a good stepping stone going forward.
“It helps,” he said. “It kind of pushes us over that edge. I hope it can give us some momentum going forward.”
It needs to if the team wants a chance at the national tournament. Moore said his team is approaching the rest of its schedule like a 12-game season.
“If we can take care of those 12, all that other stuff earlier in the season won’t matter,” he said. “If you don’t win in January, February won’t matter and you can’t dance in March.”
Armstrong vs Columbus State
01/18/14 3:30 p.m. at Columbus, Ga...Lumpkin Center
At Columbus, Ga...Lumpkin Center
COLUMBUS STATE 89, ARMSTRONG 74
ARMSTRONG (6-9, 3-5 PBC)
Eric Eversley 7-9 8-11 22; Emmanuel Tiluscar 5-15 7-12 19; Montel Baines 3-8
6-6 12; Kenny Bellinger II 3-8 2-3 9; Carlos Brown 2-5 0-0 4; Kyle Callanan
1-8 0-0 3; Darius Morales 1-2 1-2 3; H. Benayad-Cherif 1-4 0-0 2; Shema
Sabiiti 0-1 0-2 0; Kelcey Walker 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-60 24-36 74.
COLUMBUS STATE (9-6, 3-5 PBC)
Kenney Funderburk 7-17 8-8 22; BJ Battle 5-9 4-4 14; Shane Heyward 4-6 6-10
14; R.J. Sessions 3-12 1-2 9; Jermaine Morgan 2-3 4-4 8; DeAngelo Kirkland
4-8 0-0 8; Dimitri Davis 2-5 3-6 7; Ty Harris 2-6 3-3 7; Shevren Keaton 0-1
0-0 0; Brandon Dawson 0-1 0-0 0; Nick Turner 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 29-68 29-37
Armstrong..................... 36 38 - 74
Columbus State................ 46 43 - 89
3-point goals--Armstrong 4-23 (Emmanuel Tiluscar 2-8; Kyle Callanan 1-4;
Kenny Bellinger II 1-6; H. Benayad-Cherif 0-3; Carlos Brown 0-2), Columbus
State 2-14 (R.J. Sessions 2-7; BJ Battle 0-1; DeAngelo Kirkland 0-1; Ty
Harris 0-2; Kenney Funderburk 0-3). Fouled out--Armstrong-Darius Morales,
Columbus State-None. Rebounds--Armstrong 33 (Eric Eversley 10), Columbus
State 50 (Shane Heyward 10). Assists--Armstrong 11 (Emmanuel Tiluscar 3;
Kyle Callanan 3), Columbus State 9 (Ty Harris 4). Total fouls--Armstrong 27,
Columbus State 27. Technical fouls--Armstrong-None, Columbus State-None.