Senior guard Cam Baker's shot with 1.3 seconds left gave the Columbus State men's basketball team an 88-86 comeback win against Peach Belt divisional rival Clayton State in a raucous Lumpkin Center on Wednesday night.
The Cougars fought back from trailing by 13 with nine minutes to go in the second half. It was almost a mirror image of a home game on Jan. 19, where they blew a 15-point lead in a conference loss to Lander.
"Tonight, we just played defense when we got down big," said CSU head coach Robert Moore. "Guys finally decided to play. The rest of the time, I thought we were walking through the motions.
"In the Lander game, I felt like we got complacent with a 15-point lead. Tonight, our guys really bought in on the defensive side of the ball, and I thought that changed the game."
The Cougars went on a 13-0 run in just over two minutes to turn a 74-61 deficit into a tie game, bolstered by huge defensive plays. JaCori Payne had a pair of steals during the run, Baker had one, and Arben Camaj came up with a huge block.
"Just watching this team all year long, any time they make a big play, they usually get enthused about what's going on," said Moore.
"The turning point was definitely our defense," said guard Brent Jackson, who slapped a Clayton State shot off the glass earlier in the second half for a block that sent the Cougars on a break the other way. "We play with a lot of emotion. We were diving on the floor, our bigs were getting steals, and really we just played defense more."
The game was a seesaw battle in the last six minutes, with the Lakers' Nathan Powell hitting a 3-pointer to knot the score 86-86 with 14 seconds left in regulation.
"I was kind of upset with myself because I thought we should have called timeout (prior to Clayton State tying the game) and let us set our defense, but I didn't get to the ref in time," said Moore.
Instead, the Cougars called timeout afterward to set up what proved to be the game-winning play.
"We told Cam not to go too early," said Moore. "We run a play where we put all our guys flat on the baseline, and we told Cam with about four seconds left to take your guy, make the best play you can, and don't give them any time to get a shot off. He did exactly what we wanted."
"In the huddle, Coach wanted someone to step up and take the last shot, and I told him I'd get it," said Baker. "I got the ball, drove down and just pulled up, hoping it'd go in."
The boisterous Lumpkin Center crowd, which was whipped into a frenzy during the game by a loud contingent of Clayton State fans who bused to Columbus for the game, erupted after Baker's winning shot.
"I love playing in crowds like that. I enjoy it. I feel like that gives the team energy," said Baker.
"I thought Clayton State brought a good crowd, and I thought everybody came out to watch us," said Moore. "I was pretty ticked with our guys about the 13-minute mark (of the second half) because we had a great crowd and they weren't playing with any energy. They've got to understand this late in the season, you've got to come in with energy and enthusiasm and be ready to play."
The Cougars (16-4, 10-3 PBC) travel to Milledgeville on Saturday for a huge nationally televised game with divisional foe Georgia College. Tipoff is set for 5:30 p.m.
"With six more games to play, it's far from over," said Moore. "Our guys really have to concentrate and be ready for Georgia College. We'll be playing their homecoming in front of 5,000 fans and on ESPN3. If you can't get up for this one, I don't know one you can get up for. Hopefully, the guys will come out ready to play for 40 minutes."
CLAYTON STATE (12-8, 7-6 PBC)
Davis,Alfonso 6-14 11-12 24; Takija Knight 9-13 2-2 21; Powell,Nathan 5-10 3-6 15; Dantez Bennamon 4-7 2-3 11; Terry,Saiquan 4-13 0-0 11; Sirdarius
Henry 1-2 0-0 2; Clark,Marquise 0-1 2-2 2; Bell,Richard 0-2 0-0 0; Joseph,Kendall 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 29-62 20-25 86.
COLUMBUS STATE (16-4, 10-3 PBC)
Brent Jackson 8-18 9-9 25; Cam Baker 7-16 5-6 19; Brentine Taylor 8-13 1-2 17; JaCori Payne 5-10 3-3 14; Darren Daniel 2-4 0-0 5; DeMarcus McVay 2-3
0-0 4; Arben Camaj 1-6 0-0 2; Matthias Sigurdarson 1-1 0-0 2; Demetres Abrams 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 34-71 18-20 88.
Halftime: Clayton State 44-39.
3-point goals--Clayton State 8-19 (Terry,Saiquan 3-10; Powell,Nathan 2-2; Dantez Bennamon 1-3; Takija Knight 1-1; Davis,Alfonso 1-1; Clark, Marquise 0-1; Sirdarius Henry 0-1), Columbus State 2-11 (JaCori Payne 1-3; Darren Daniel 1-1; Arben Camaj 0-4; Brent Jackson 0-3). Fouled out--Clayton State-None, Columbus State-None. Rebounds--Clayton State 38 (Powell,Nathan
10), Columbus State 36 (Brentine Taylor 10). Assists--Clayton State 14 (Dantez Bennamon 7), Columbus State 12 (Cam Baker 5). Total fouls--Clayton State 16, Columbus State 17. Technical fouls--Clayton State-None, Columbus State-None. A-807