CIRCLEVILLE, Ohio - The Columbus State men's basketball team defeated the Cuyahoga Challengers Saturday night 76-68 to win the NJCAA Region XII District 11 tournament championship. The victory launches the Cougars to the tournament for the first time since 2009, when they went all the way to being national runner-up.
To get to Saturday night's conference final, Columbus State (24-6, 10-4 OCCAC) had to beat the Lakeland (18-13, 9-5 OCCAC) on Friday night, and did so in an 86-83 overtime thriller.
In Saturday's championship game, the Cougars started off a little slow, shooting a 37.5 percentage in the first half. At that point, the Challengers were shooting at 44.1 percent and had grabbed nearly twice as many rebounds (26-14). After halftime, however, Columbus State really fired up its offense, making 43.3 percent of their field shots, including 60 percent of their three-point shots.
Sophomore guards Kenneth Moore and Donte Smith both had great performances. Moore scored a team-high 18 points with 6-for-8 shooting, including nailing two three-pointers and going 4-for-4 from the foul line. He also grabbed four rebounds and dished out two assists. Smith sunk in 16 points, all from behind the arc. He also added a game-high three steals.
Robert Caldwell registered 13 points on 5-for-14 shooting as well as two rebounds, two assists, and a steal. Contributing eight points apiece were Patrick Ngene-Igwe, Nic Williams, and Rodney Willis. Ngene-Igwe and Willis each pulled down eight rebounds, while Williams had five. Rounding out the scoring were Chris Byrd and John Montgomery, who chipped in three and two points respectively for the Cougars.
Despite the early struggles, the Challengers biggest lead of the game was just four points. In the second half, the Cougars lead by as many as 13 points with six minutes remaining. Columbus State was also able to limit their turnovers (7) and score 12 points off of Cuyahoga's 14 turnovers.
Pacing the Challengers were Kash Blackwell with a game-high 22 points and Rico Jones with 16 points.
Shortly after the victory, Robert Caldwell was named to the All-Tournament team and Rodney Willis was selected as the tournament's MVP for his cumulative 37 points and 14 rebounds over the two games.
Columbus State will find out its NJCAA tournament opponent on Tue, Mar. 8 at 11:07 a.m.