COLUMBUS, Ga. – The Columbus State University men’s basketball team led wire-to-wire knocking off USC Aiken 84-66 in the Peach Belt Conference Tournament quarterfinals Saturday. The contest took place inside the Lumpkin Center.
With the win, the Cougars advance to the PBC Tournament semifinals that will be played at Lander University on Saturday, March 4. CSU will face long time rival Augusta at 3:30 p.m.
“We came out strong in the first half and that paved the way for our intensity level throughout the game,” said head coach Robert Moore. “The guys knew what this game took and our leaders stepped up for sure. Arben [Camaj] and JaCori [Payne] had great games and really showed up when we needed them to.”
The game couldn’t have started out better for Columbus State (19-8) as the Cougars scored the game’s first 10 points. Marcus Dixon had the game’s opening bucket and the Cougars were off with Ryan Burnett and Arben Camaj getting into the scoring action.
USC Aiken (18-9) missed its first nine shots until a second chance effort made it 10-2 at the 16:09 mark.
The Pacers finally settled in cutting it to a single-digit deficit at the 8:30 mark with a 3 shrinking the Cougar lead down to 20-12. However, CSU answered with an 11-5 run to go ahead by 14. JaCori Payne had seven points in the spurt, including a 3, as CSU went 5-for-6 from the floor during the stretch.
Camaj scored the final two buckets of the half for the Cougars putting Columbus State in front 41-29 at the break.
Early in the second half, USC Aiken tried to make things interesting. Columbus State was cold coming out of the break as the Pacers cut the margin to just seven, 41-34, after knocking down a 3. It was the closest USCA was to the lead since the 17:36 mark in the first half. In fact, USCA wouldn’t come any closer the rest of the way.
Columbus State answered with a 9-2 run over the next two and a half minutes to go back up 50-36 with just 13:48 to play.
The Cougars continued to add on in the latter portion of the half. With a 13-point lead, CSU scored eight unanswered points to take its first 20-point lead of the game. Both Camaj and John Lambert each knocked down a 3.
Columbus State would cruise from there as USC Aiken didn’t come within 13 of the lead for the final 8:25 of the game.
Camaj led CSU with 20 points as the senior was 7-for-10 from the floor. He came up one rebound shy of a double-double as well as collecting five blocks. Payne had 18 while Vic Ellis added 17 with four made 3-pointers.
As a team, the Cougars shot 53.8 percent (28-for-52) and 40.9 percent (9-for-22) from 3.
USC Aiken shot just 30.3 percent (23-for-76) overall and hit just 11 of its 40 3-point attempts. The Pacers held a decisive 51-34 margin on the glass.
With the tournament win, the Cougars advance to the PBC Tournament semifinals for the third straight season.