DANVILLE, Illinois – After a strong first half, the Cougars couldn't manage to hold onto their lead, losing to South Mountain (Ariz.) 92-86 in the semifinal consolation round of the NJCAA DII Tournament on Friday afternoon. South Mountain will play Monroe (NY) for a seventh place finish on Saturday afternoon.
Columbus State sunk in a remarkable 17 three-point shots at a 37.8 shooting percentage along with making 81.8 percent of their free throws, the best they posted at the tournament. The Cougars forced 19 turnovers that they converted into 16 points and captured nine steals. All this despite being significantly out-sized.
"We left all we had on the floor," said Coach Thompson. "The guys played extremely hard. At the end, South Mountain's size wore us down."
Five Cougars scored in double figures lead by Donte Smith and Kenneth Moore, who each registered 17 points. Smith tied his career-high of five three-pointers in a single game while Moore tied his with three. Rodney Willis, who matched Moore's trio of threes, tallied 14 points while Robert Caldwell and Nic Williams each recorded 11 points. Caldwell also sunk in three shots from behind the arc while Williams had one.
Columbus State had a 42-41 halftime lead behind 12 points from reserve Smith. The Cougars led well into the second half, until South Mountain began to pull away, leading by as many as nine with seven minutes to go. The Cougars got into some serious foul trouble in the second half, with South Mountain finishing the game shooting 42 free throws, while making 31, compared to the Cougars 9-for-11. Six Cougars ended the game with four personal fouls each.
Other offensive contributors were Lamarr Barnes with six points while Chris Byrd and Travon Hester adding five points apiece. Barnes also led the Cougars in rebounds with seven as Patrick Ngene-Igwe snatched six. Williams and Caldwell each pulled down four rebounds as Byrd and John Montgomery grabbed three. Moore tied for a game-high eight assists while Willis dished out a career-high six assists. Caldwell and Williams each chipped in two.
The Cougars end the season 25-8 after finishing second in the conference and emerging as the District 11 Champions earlier this month. "I'm very proud of all the guys," said Thompson. "We had an unforgettable season."