Three straight home games, three straight buzzer-beating wins for the Columbus State men's basketball team, which defeated Montevallo 69-68 at the Lumpkin Center on Wednesday night.
The past two home games, senior guard and leading scorer Cam Baker was the player to hit the game-winning shot. This time, center Demarcus McVay was the hero for the Cougars, scoring the final four points of the game for CSU.
After a quick Baker layup to pull CSU within one, a crucial mistake by Montevallo stepping on the baseline on the ensuing inbounds play gave the ball back to the Cougars with 18 seconds left.
McVay was fouled immediately on the CSU inbounds play, making good on both his free throws to give CSU the lead.
Montevallo scored to put the Falcons back up by one on a Terrell Lipkins field goal with five seconds to go in the game before the McVay game-winner with just four tenths of a second remaining in the second half off an assist from Baker.
"He's one of the hardest working guys in practice every day," CSU coach Robert Moore said of McVay. "I always tell him to stay at it because good things are going to happen when he works so hard on the court. I was glad Cam trusted him to knock that shot down. He makes that shot in practice every day. When Cam came off, I knew he was going to throw it to him."
"I saw when Cam got the ball, everyone was really on his side," McVay said. "I was coming down the right side, and I was by myself. He saw me, passed to me, and I just shot it."
"All week, Coach was telling me that the players are switching up their game and are going to be eyeing me," Baker said. "When I got the ball, I was driving down the hole and I saw all the players collapsing (on me). I saw McVay popping out, and I just passed to him. I knew he was going to make it."
The win allowed CSU some relief against its nemesis. Before Wednesday night, Montevallo had won 17 of the last 18 meetings.
The game was a seesaw battle between the two teams. No team had a lead bigger than five points during the contest, with the two teams fighting to a 33-33 tie in the first half.
"Defense was the key tonight. When you have two good teams like that, it's tough to get open buckets and transition buckets," Moore said.
Baker was relegated to the bench just two minutes into the first half after picking up two quick fouls and a technical foul in frustration. He came back out on the floor to start the second half and finished the game with 12 points.
"Coach brought me to the sideline and told me to stay in it, motivate the team, and to keep your poise and composure," Baker said. "I kept giving advice to my teammates (from the bench) and encouraging them."
Brent Jackson led all Cougars with 24 points, playing 38 of the 40 minutes in the contest. He was 9 of 17 overall on field goals, 5 of 13 of those from beyond the 3-point line.
"I just walked into this game with an attack mentality," Jackson said. "They kept going to me and I just kept dropping them tonight."
"I think Brent being on a 22-8 team last year knows what's at stake," Moore said. "He doesn't want his season to end. He knows as many wins as you can get helps you for an NCAA tournament bid. Brent goes out and plays every game like it's his last. That's what you have to do when you're a senior in college, play every game like it's your last and see what happens. I think he's doing a good job of that right now."
With the win, CSU (18-6, 12-5 Peach Belt Conference) becomes locked in a three-way tie with Montevallo (16-8, 12-5) and Young Harris. The Cougars own the tie-breaker and would have the No. 1 seed in the Western Division by virtue of their 3-1 record against the other two teams atop the West.
The Cougars have two games remaining, with their regular season home finale on Saturday against North Georgia. They travel to Clayton State for their final regular season game next Wednesday.
"We can't relax right now," Moore said. "North Georgia is going to be the spoiler to any team, and it's Senior Night. Our guys have to be ready to stay locked in and focused to win that next game. After Senior Night, we go to Clayton State. It's a rivalry game, so we've got a lot of work to do if we want to win the regular season championship."
UNIVERSITY OF MONTEVALLO (16-8, 12-5 PBC)
Lipkins, Terrell 10-17 4-5 29; Orange, Bryant 1-10 8-10 11; Worthy, Tevin 5-7 0-1 10; Fields, Malik 3-6 1-1 7; Whitaker, Talan 3-3 1-2 7; Kelly, Kevin 1-5 0-1 2; Autry, Vaughn 1-4 0-0 2; Kelley, Logan 0-0 0-0 0; Guity, Julio 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-52 14-20 68.
COLUMBUS STATE (18-6, 12-5 PBC)
Brent Jackson 9-17 1-2 24; DeMarcus McVay 5-7 3-4 13; Cam Baker 4-11 4-6 12; Brentine Taylor 3-4 2-2 8; Arben Camaj 3-5 0-0 7; Darren Daniel 1-3 0-0 3; Matthias Sigurdarson 1-2 0-0 2; Demetres Abrams 0-3 0-0 0; JaCori Payne 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 26-54 10-14 69.
Halftime--Tied at 33-33. 3-point goals--University of Montevallo 6-17 (Lipkins, Terrell 5-8; Orange, Bryant 1-5; Kelly, Kevin 0-1; Autry, Vaughn 0-3), Columbus State 7-25 (Brent Jackson 5-13; Arben Camaj 1-3; Darren Daniel 1-2; Matthias Sigurdarson 0-1; Demetres Abrams 0-2; JaCori Payne 0-2; Cam Baker 0-2). Fouled out--University of Montevallo-None, Columbus State-None. Rebounds--University of Montevallo 30 (Lipkins, Terrell 6), Columbus State 32 (Cam Baker 6; Brentine Taylor 6). Assists--University of Montevallo 10 (Lipkins, Terrell 3), Columbus State 15 (Darren Daniel 3; JaCori Payne 3; Arben Camaj 3). Total fouls--University of Montevallo 16, Columbus State 18. Technical fouls--University of Montevallo-None, Columbus State-Cam Baker; TEAM. A-921