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Chargers wear down Vol State in TCCAA tourney opener

By Chris Yow

COLUMBIA — A pair of double-doubles from Tarre’q Williams and Xavier Griffith, and a physical defensive effort from Columbia State propelled the Chargers to an 87-66 win over visiting Volunteer State on Tuesday night in the first round of the TCCAA tournament.

Holding a narrow 32-29 lead with a little under two minutes to play in the first half, Columbia State (14-2, 11-1) got a pair of second-chance buckets from Jamari Bostic and another layup from Williams to push that lead to a 38-29 advantage at the break.

Bostic led a very balanced scoring attack with 12 points in the game.

“(Bostic) is the guy who holds that team together,” veteran Pioneers coach Rusty Melvin said. “When you have a player like him, he can make any team really good, but (Columbia State coach) Winston (Neal) has built that team to go to the national tournament.”

Before COVID-19 shut down the NJCAA national tournament last season, the Chargers were set to make the trip following their TCCAA tournament championship. This season, Neal and his team are focused on making the trip and having a chance to play for a national title.

To get there, however, it must win every game and the Chargers needed a strong start against the Pioneers.

“I thought it was important to get off to a good start, and they made some shots, got going. That’s what we didn’t want,” Neal said. “But credit our team for buckling down and getting stops.”

Vol State averages close to 80 points per game, but C-State is also ranked third in the country in defensive field goal percentage (36.8%), and also second in the nation in rebounds per game (48.5/g). The Chargers pulled down 68 rebounds — 30 on offense — in the contest, limiting the Pioneers to one shot per offensive trip nearly every time down the floor and allowing themselves a second chance on several occasions.

Vol State has just eight players on their roster, and 6-8 freshman center Brennon Marsh went down with an ankle injury late in the first half before the C-State surge on offense.

“When (Marsh) went down it killed our zone defense,” Melvin said. “Our entire defensive strategy was predicated on him taking up space in the middle.”

The Chargers took full advantage of the situation, going on a 16-2 run to extend their lead to 56-38 just before the 10-minute mark of the second half. Neal’s ability to work in as many as 12 players, while Vol State’s top five were forced to play virtually the entire game, was a huge advantage for the Chargers.

“You could just tell Vol got tired,” Neal said. “When you have that luxury, it makes you a much better team.”

“We didn’t have the physical size to match up and play a 40-minute game with them,” Melvin said. “I wanted the game in the 70s because if we get hot, we can score. Tonight we missed a lot of shots, and it was because we were tired.”

This season, the TCCAA was broken into two separate divisions, with Columbia State holding the top seed in the West. The only team in the East to defeat Columbia State was Southwest Tennessee, the No. 2 seed. The Saluqis were a 90-87 winner over Dyersburg State in the quarterfinals, setting up a fifth game between the two schools.

In their previous game at Columbia State on March 24 — a 77-64 win for the Chargers — there was an obvious tension both during the contest and following the game. Poise will be paramount come Thursday.

“Any time in the tournament, it’s important to keep your emotion in check,” he said, noting top-five program Tallahassee CC was disqualified from their tournament due to their part in an in-game fight recently. “Everything is heated, and you have to keep your head. The team that does that usually ends up winning.”

Photos by Buffy Holt for SM-TN Sports