Jonathan Norton isn’t a bookworm.
But he found himself doing some research Wednesday night. On the Columbus State women’s basketball website, the team’s coach came across a startling statistic: In his five years leading the Lady Cougars, he was 0-6 in March.
Make that 1-6 after Thursday night.
Columbus State won the opening tip and never trailed as it eased past Flagler 86-60 at the Lumpkin Center in the quarterfinals of the Peach Belt Conference tournament.
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“I thought we came out blazing. I thought we shot the ball extremely well,” Norton said following the victory. “Asha (Alexander) had a tremendous first half, but give credit to all three seniors. I thought they were very focused on, ‘We’re going to win and advance and do something we haven’t done.”
Of those six March losses on Norton’s ledger, four of them had come in the conference tournament.
He wasn’t the only one aware of the team’s futility in this month the past four-plus seasons.
“I know (the seniors) were aware,” he said. “They were like, ‘We need to advance and be playing on the weekend to have a chance to go the NCAA tournament.’”
With the win, Columbus State (19-7) seemingly clinched a spot in the NCAA tournament. But senior forward Chatil Bradford wouldn’t hear any of it.
If anything, she said, the team is hungrier than ever.
“We haven’t been past this first round in forever,” said Bradford, who had a team-high 22 points. “We’ve been here four years and we want to end on something big, not something little. We want to leave something here, like a title. That’s what we need to be able to say we’ve done something since we’ve been here. Just getting to the semifinals isn’t enough.”
The Lady Cougars didn’t have to sweat much in their quarterfinal matchup. After winning the opening tip, Alexander scored six straight points to get Columbus State out to a 6-0 lead. The Lady Cougars never looked back from there. At halftime, they had extended their lead to 38-25.
Once they came back out of the locker room, they continued to pile on the points, eventually pushing the lead to 20 with just five minutes remaining. With the game well out of reach, Norton started to empty his bench against the Saints (12-15), who saw their season come to a close.
Afterward, Norton lauded his team’s offense. The Lady Cougars converted 60 percent (33 of 55) of their field goal attempts, after all. He was every bit as pleased Columbus State’s defensive performance, as Flagler made just 40.4 percent (23 of 57) of its shots and had multiple stretches where the only points it could muster came at the free throw line.
Norton believed the Lady Cougars flummoxed their opponent by constantly switching up their looks.
“We were going man and zone. Usually one is better than the other, but I thought tonight both were very effective,” he said. “In man I thought we got plenty of stops and in our zone we just harped on building a wall and keeping (Williesha) Spencer out of the paint and I think we did a very good job of that.”
Part of the reason for the success Thursday, Norton said, was simply having fresh legs. After its final regular season game last Saturday, the team didn’t practice Sunday. When the team reconvened Monday, it did nothing more than a walk through and film review.
A similar plan will be implemented today, as Columbus State makes preparations for its semifinal matchup Saturday.
“We’ll come in the afternoon sometime (Friday) and watch film,” Norton said. “There’s no secrets. It’s not like we’re going to put in this elaborate scheme. We’re going to have to do what we do and just play better than we did the last two times we played Clayton or whoever it is.”
Bradford was caught thinking ahead, mentioning that Columbus State would get another crack at Clayton State. The only problem was Clayton had yet to take the court. But the Lakers, the conference's regular season champions, proved her right. Though it was more difficult than many expected, Clayton State held off Lander 75-71 to set up a semifinal clash with Lander.
The Lady Cougars haven't had any luck against the Lakers this season, though. In their two meetings this season, Clayton State came away victorious both times.
Coming off such a convincing victory on Thursday, Bradford is has her mind set on avenging those previous defeats.
"We’ve got to go back and get that win," she said. "It’s payback time."