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Cougars look to leave the Peach Belt tournament collapse in the past

Cougars open regional against UNC Pembroke

By KEVIN PRICE

kprice@ledger-enquirer.com

The Columbus State men's basketball team will have a chance on Saturday to start to erase the memories of last Sunday's nightmare of a finish in the Peach Belt Conference tournament championship game.

The Cougars led Montevallo by 25 points early in the second half only to lose in overtime.

Now Saturday, the Cougars get a new life as they face fellow PBC team, UNC Pembroke, at noon in the Southeast Regional. The regional is being hosted by Lincoln Memorial in Harrogate, Tenn.

CSU coach Robert Moore said he got over the loss by going back to work.

"Just by watching a lot of film on Pembroke and getting ready for them," Moore said. "It was a tough loss, being up by that many points. We felt like we gave it away. But after watching film, Montevallo had a lot to do with it, making some very tough shots. And we didn't make our free throws down the stretch."

Moore said he texted every guy on the team with a

simple message.

"I texted the guys and told them 'don't linger on that we lost the Peach Belt. Think about becoming the first Columbus State team to reach the Elite Eight. And to do that, we have to win the next three games.' "

CSU (22-7) is the No. 6 seed in the regional, while Pembroke is No. 3. The teams met back on Dec. 18 at Pembroke.

BJ Battle hit three 3-pointers in a row and Kenney Funderburke added a layup to rally CSU from a seven-point deficit to a two-point lead. But Pembroke scored the final six points to pull out the win.

"We didn't take care if the ball down the stretch like we need to," Moore said. "And we let their inside guys get too deep on us. We didn't have the chemistry on offense that we do now. We are bigger at the guards. We have to post up their smaller guards and get some easy baskets that way."

CSU and Pembroke are joined in the region by fellow PBC members Montevallo, the second seed, and Georgia Regents, the No. 5 seed, making half of the eight teams in the regional from the Peach Belt.

"I don't like it," Moore said. "Division II needs to do a better job. Part of going to the national tournament should be the fun of playing different teams."

The Cougars, who have now lost to Montevallo three times this season, may get another shot at the Falcons. Montevallo plays seventh-seeded Carson-Newman at 2:30 p.m. If CSU and Montevallo both win, they would meet at 5 p.m. Sunday in one of the semifinals.

But Moore said the team is not thinking about the Falcons.

"Now is the time to survive and advance," Moore said. "We can't do that if we are thinking about Montevallo."

In the other half of the bracket, Lincoln Memorial, the top seed, play North Greenville, the eighth seed, at 5 p.m. and No. 4 Mount Olive faces No. 5 Georgia Regents at 7:30 p.m.

Notes: This is CSU's 11th trip to the NCAA tournament but the first since 2012. CSU has advanced as far as the Sweet Sixteen in 1996 and 2000.

Kevin Price, 706-320-4493, Follow Kevin on Twitter @lesports and on Facebook at Facebook.com/ledgerenquirersports

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