Columbus State and Anderson Face Off in NCAA Tournament
On January 28, the Columbus State University men's basketball team was 9-8 and fighting to stay afloat. Having not had a winning season in four years, CSU in the NCAA Tournament did not cross many people's minds. A lot can change in just over a month. On Saturday the Cougars will take the court in their first NCAA Tournament game since 2006 taking facing off against Anderson. CSU needed to do a lot after a 63-55 loss to Augusta State on January 23 but the Cougars were up to the task. Since that loss, Columbus State has gone 9-3 and have played their best basketball in years. The Cougars entered the Peach Belt Conference Tournament on the bubble to reach the NCAA Tournament but did not shy away from the challenge. CSU knocked off Lander, the 10th seed in the NCAA Southeast Region going into the PBC Tournament, 84-81 in overtime before having to face top-seeded USC Aiken. The Cougars and Pacers played one of the most memorable games in PBC Tournament history as Columbus native Steve Peterson put his hometown team on his back making a game-tying three to send the game into double-overtime and eventually hit a running jumper to send the Cougars into the title game for the first time in six seasons and the Big Dance. Another task awaits for Columbus State, as Anderson will be the favorite in the opening round matchup boasting a 24-5 record and are the 14th ranked team in the nation.
Anderson (24-5) will be looking to return to the Elite 8 after last season's remarkable run through the NCAA Southeast Regional. The Trojans entered the tournament as the seventh seed and knocked off Lincoln Memorial, Montevallo and regional host Augusta State to appear in the school's first NCAA Elite 8. This season, Anderson is not surprising anyone as they entered the South Atlantic Conference as the number one seed before falling to Wingate 66-59 in the tournament final.
The Trojans are led by Denzail Jones and Nick Trull who both light up the scoreboard. Jones, a 5-9 guard from Tuscaloosa, AL, has led Anderson in scoring 11 times this season including dropping 50 against Newberry in a double-overtime game in the SAC Tournament semifinals. For the season, he averages 17.0 points per game while shooting 37.5 percent from three-point range. Jones also leads the team in assists dishing out 3.1 per game. Trull is not afraid to shoot from anywhere on the court as he has taken 202 three-point field goal attempts. He averages 14.9 points per game and is a 40.2 percent shooter from the floor including shooting 35.6 percent from beyond the arc. Taylor Shugart is the post threat for Anderson as the 6-7 senior center averages 11.7 points and 7.2 rebounds per contest. His rebounding total was the second best mark in the South Atlantic Conference this season.
As a team, Anderson will be one of the best scoring offenses that the Cougars have played this year as the Trojans average 78.9 points per game. They have surpassed the 100-point plateau three times this season including scoring a season high 113 points in the double-overtime contest against Newberry. The Trojans shoot 45 percent from the floor and 36.8 percent from three-point range. Anderson was 0-2 this season against teams from the Peach Belt Conference (loss at Georgia College 76-61, loss at North Georgia 70-49).
Big Victory, Huge Loss
In Columbus State's thrilling double-overtime victory against USC Aiken, the Cougars lost a key component to their success this season. In the first overtime period, Winford Ivey, CSU's starting point guard in 17 games this season, limped off the court. An x-ray on Sunday confirmed that Ivey had a broke bone in his foot that will keep the junior off the court for the remainder of the Cougar's postseason run. The Columbus native had a pin inserted into his right pinky toe on Tuesday. Ivey averaged 9.0 points per game this season while dishing out 107 assists, a team high and the fifth most in the Peach Belt Conference.
Outdoing His Teacher
When Columbus State takes the floor against Anderson in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, it will set a CSU coaching mark. Robert Moore will the fastest Cougar coach to lead Columbus State into the national tournament as he has done so in just his second season at the helm. Moore will be break his mentor's Herbet Greene's mark as Greene took the Cougars to the Big Dance for the first time in his third season. Greene is the only coach in CSU history to win a NCAA Tournament game as he guided the Cougars to a 8-8 mark all-time.
The 2012 Peach Belt Conference Tournament will not be soon forgotten by anyone especially Columbus State fans. CSU played unforgettable games as the Cougars reached their 10th PBC Tournament Championship game, a conference record. CSU became the first team in conference history to play two overtime games in the same tournament as the Cougars defeated Lander 84-81 in the quarterfinal round and knocked off USC Aiken, the PBC regular season champions, 75-74 in double-overtime in the semifinal round. The semifinal round game was just the fourth contest in PBC Tournament history to reach double-overtime.
Dancing Once Again
Columbus State will have to dust off their dancing shoes as the Cougars will be playing the in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006. That season was CSU's all-time winningest coach Herbert Greene's final season and the last of four NCAA Tournament appearances in a row. Overall, this will be Columbus State's 10th tournament appearance and the sixth in 12 years. Robert Moore will become just the third CSU coach to take the Cougars into the tournament (Greene 8, Sonny Clements 1) and the first coach not named Herbert Greene to lead the Cougars in the tourney since 1978. The Cougars have played 18 NCAA Tournament games with an overall record of 8-10 and have reached the Sweet 16 two times in program history.
A CSU Win Would...
• Be the first time that Columbus State won at least 19 games since the 2005-2006 season. That year, the Cougars went 23-9.
• Be Columbus State's first NCAA Tournament victory since the 2006 Tournament. That season, the Cougars defeated USC Upstate 90-88 in overtime.
• Give Columbus State a four-game NCAA Tournament first round winning streak. The Cougars have not lost in the first round of the Big Dance since they were knocked off by Presbyterian in 2003. That year, the Cougars were the top-seeded team and the host institution for the Southeast Regional
• Be Robert Moore's first NCAA Tournament victory.
• Make Robert Moore just the second Columbus State head coach to guide the Cougars to a NCAA Tournament victory.
• Be Columbus State's first victory over a ranked opponent since December 7, 2009 when they defeated second ranked Valdosta State 73-71. Since then, CSU is 0-9 against ranked foes.
• Be Robert Moore's 30th career victory.
• Be the program's first victory over Anderson. The Cougars and Trojans have met just once prior with AU coming away with the win in Columbus on December 18, 2009.