Columbus State University

Columbus State heads into 'crunch time,' a game out of first place

A berth in the Peach Belt Conference tournament seemed like a certainty a few weeks ago for the Columbus State men's basketball team. That is no longer the case.

The Cougars (16-6, 10-5) have been at or near the top of the Western Division for most of the season, but a two-game losing streak has them sitting in third, a game behind Montevallo and Young Harris.

Since only the top four teams in each division advance to the tournament, perhaps even more important now is that CSU has just a one-game lead on Georgia College and Clayton State.

CSU has four games left in the regular season, home games against Young Harris (Saturday, 3;30 p.m.), Montevallo (Wednesday), North Georgia (Feb. 20) then a road game at Clayton State (Feb. 24).

"It's crunch time," CSU coach Robert Moore said. "There isn't any time left to rebound from a loss, not to mention two in a row. We have to play a complete game on Saturday or we are putting ourselves in a hard position to succeed later in the month."

CSU heads into Saturday's game off an 80-75 loss at Montevallo. The Cougars led by 11 in the first half, but the Falcons rallied to take a two-point margin into halftime. Montevallo led the entire second half with CSU climbing to within one of multiple occasions down the stretch.

"We played very sloppy when we had the lead," Moore said. "We have to play more in control when we have a lead no matter what point in the game it is."

CSU won the earlier meeting at Young Harris 86-83, rallying from an 11-point deficit in the second half.

Cam Baker scored 32 points in the win. Baker, who is CSU's leading scorer at 20.3 points per game, has been held to a total of 26 in the last two games.

Meanwhile, the Lady Cougars (18-4, 12-3) have been trending in the opposite direction. They have won five straight and are in a tie for first place in the West with Clayton State.

One of CSU's three losses came at Young Harris, a 55-51 defeat. That was the fewest points CSU has scored this season.

"We played really poor at Young Harris," CSU coach Jonathan Norton. "We had too many breakdowns on both ends of the floor and Young Harris took advantage.

"We have to be sharper on offense and defense and we can't afford to have long dry spells like we did in the first game."

CSU pulled away in the fourth quarter to beat Montevallo 71-56 on Wednesday. They did so despite Michelle Mitchell sitting out most of the game due to illness.

Ashley Asouzu matched her career high with 21 points.

The Lady Cougars have won a school and conference record 27 straight home games.

Kevin Price, 706-320-4493, Follow Kevin on Twitter@lesports