DAHLONEGA, GA – The close ones keep going the other way for the North Georgia men's basketball team as the Saints fought back to force overtime before Columbus State University prevailed for the 66-64 victory in Peach Belt Conference action in Memorial Hall.
With time running down under the one minute mark in regulation, Columbus State's Lamar Williams drilled a jumper just inside the arc, giving the Cougars the lead and putting the pressure on the Saints.
Following a timeout, North Georgia ran the shot clock down under five seconds and Chaun Tinney was forced to put up a runner jumper that was off the mark, but Robby Goldsmith snagged the offensive board and was fouled with 17 seconds remaining. Goldsmith calmly stepped to the line and deadlocked the score at 58-58 and the Cougar's jumper at the buzzer was wide of the mark, sending the contest to the extra period.
In overtime, CSU quickly took the lead as the Saints and Cougars swapped free throws before Jamarquis Steverson knocked down one of two foul shots to five Columbus State a two-point edge.
Following one of two made free throws by Elijah Smith, the Saints were down a point and back on defense, but Tinney stripped Steverson in the open court and connected on the fast break layup to put North Georgia in front 62-61 with 2:55 remaining.
The Cougars regained the lead just over a minute to play, holding a 65-63 lead before Elijah Smith was fouled going to the bucket with four seconds left, nearly hitting the layup, but the ball rimmed out, sending the junior to the line for a pair.
Columbus State took a timeout to ice the Hephzibah, Ga., native, but he sank the first attempt to pull the Saints to within a point. Following another timeout by CSU head coach Robert Moore, Smith launched the second free throw, sailing wide of the mark and off the rim to Columbus State.
Following a foul, Cougar guard Donta Ridley hit one of two free throws, setting up a half court shot at the buzzer by Carl Taylor that never drew iron, giving the Cougars' a 66-64 overtime victory.
The struggles continue for Chris Faulkner's bunch as they fall to 3-8 on the season with five losses coming less than five points, and three defeats coming in overtime. The Saints drop to 3-8 on the year overall and 0-2 in the Peach Belt Conference with the loss, while Columbus State improves to 5-6 on the year and get back to .500 on the season at 1-1 in the league.
The Saints' defense was the story early, holding Columbus State scoreless over the first three and a half minutes and racing out to a 5-0 lead behind a trio of free throws and a bucket from Keldrick Coleman.
North Georgia led until the 11:58 mark when Bryant Thomas knocked down layup, creating the first tie of the game at 9-9. The score would deadlock five more times in the first half and the lead changed hands seven times as a back and forward affair dominated the final minutes of the opening half.
CSU's Darius McKnight's layup with 51 seconds remaining in the half gave his team a two-point edge as the Cougars attempted to stretch the lead in the final seconds, launching three consecutive three-pointers but coming up empty to take a 29-27 lead into intermission.
Tillman led the Saints with 13 points and 10 rebounds for a double-double, while Taylor added 13 points of his own in 38 minutes of action. Smith finished in double figures with 12 points, while adding eight rebounds and a game-high five blocks. Goldsmith tallied 10 points of his own, including the clutch free throws in the final seconds to force overtime.
Darius McKnight led all scorers with 20 points and 12 rebounds for a double-double, while Paul Darkwa added 11, and Williams notched 10 points and four rebounds for the Cougars.
Both teams struggled for the free throw line as the Saints sank just 15 of 19 free throws for 51-percent from the charity stripe, while the Cougars connected on just 24 of 40 attempts for 60-percent.
The Saints return to action next Wednesday evening, welcoming the University of Montevallo to town for a Peach Belt Conference battle. Tip-off against the Falcons is set for 5:30 p.m. in Memorial Hall.