By Maurice Patton
COLUMBIA – If it’s true that pressure creates diamonds or bursts pipes, suffice it to say the Columbia Central boys basketball team isn’t sparkling these days.
After letting a 14-point fourth-quarter lead get away in Wednesday’s District 8-AAA Tournament semifinal loss, the Lions got up by as many as 23 in the third period of Friday’s consolation matchup against visiting Lincoln County – but couldn’t hold on, falling 78-75 in an overtime affair that wasn’t sealed until freshman Jordan Davis’ 3-pointer went in and came out at the final buzzer.
With that, a team that rode a nine-game winning streak into the postseason heads into a Monday Region 4-AAA tourney quarterfinal clash at Blackman on a two-game skid.
“It’s the same story: We can’t relax,” Central coach Nick Campbell said after his team missed on its second attempt at its 20th win of the season. “I’ve got to do a better job figuring out how to extend leads.”
The Lions (19-9) were clicking on both ends of the floor in the opening half – getting six consecutive stops during a second-quarter stretch that saw them stretch a 23-19 cushion to 38-22 by intermission.
That margin grew to 47-24 midway through the third period, before Lincoln County (11-8) began to rally.
For the second night in a row, an untimely (and uncertain) charging call against Q Martin negated a basket and helped spark the Falcons, who outscored Central 12-3 to close the third.
Davis tried to steady the ship, scoring seven of the Lions’ 10 points to start the fourth period. His point-blank bucket off a Martin assist made it a 60-41 game with 5:14 remaining in regulation.
Central’s next scores, a pair of Martin free throws, pushed the lead to 62-56, stopping Lincoln County’s run of 15 unanswered points.
“Energy. Our guys fought and played with energy,” Falcons coach Mark Cornelius said. “We were down 25 at Shelbyville in the second half and came back and won in regulation (71-65, on Dec. 15). That let us know we can come back from some crazy stuff.
“We had pressed some this season, but not a lot lately. We didn’t have the legs. But you could tell the way we flew around in the second half, as opposed to the first. We didn’t do anything different offensively; we just went to a small lineup and it paid off.”
Central didn’t score from the floor before the end of the second half, leaving the door open for the visitors to tie the game at 64 on a pair of 3-pointers and a pair of free throws with three-tenths of a second remaining when Martin was whistled for his fifth foul while battling for a defensive rebound.
In the extra period, Lincoln County managed to grab a three-point lead at the 1:05 mark. Davis, who scored seven of his team-high 24 points in overtime, kept it close yet again but never got the hosts over the hump.
“The shot looked good. It just went around the rim and spun back out,” the freshman said of his final attempt.
“I don’t know how it didn’t go in,” Campbell said. “We’ll take that shot every time.
“They applied pressure to slow us down, and we let it dictate what we were going to do. Our defense initiates our offense. We can’t stop playing defense when the ball doesn’t go in.”
Martin finished with 14 points and Omari Franklin 12 in the loss. Lincoln County’s Owen Sandlin scored a game-high 30 points.
Lincoln Co. boys 78, Columbia Central 75 (OT)
L 17 5 14 28 14 – 78
C 18 20 12 14 11 – 75
Lincoln Co. (78) – Jackson Mullins 5, Kelby Fitch 2, Cody Allen 5, Jack Massey 3, Eli Ogle 17, Jailen Brown 12, Eric Greenwood 4, Owen Sandlin 30
Columbia Central (75) – Cam Johnson 8, Demetrius McCoy 2, Carter Szydlowski 3, Q Martin 14, Omari Franklin 12, Bubba Perkins 3, Roni Bailey 9, Jordan Davis 24
3-pointers – Lincoln Co. 9 (Mullins, Massey, Ogle 22, Brown, Sandlin 4), Columbia Central 9 (Johnson 2, Martin 3, Franklin, Perkins, Bailey, Davis)