Columbia's Jordan Smith absorbs contact during the regional quarterfinal (ERIC JACKSON/Lake City Reporter).Columbia's Bobby Fulton takes a jumpshot against Englewood (ERIC JACKSON/ Lake City Reporter).Columbia's Marcus Owens looks to score in the paint Thursday night (ERIC JACKSON/Lake City Reporter).Englewood's Loro Natana flushes a dunk during the first half (ERIC JACKSON/Lake City Reporter).Columbia's Marquez Bell scores in the lane Thursday night (ERIC JACKSON/Lake City Reporter).

BOYS BASKETBALL: Rams edge Tigers in regional quarterfinal

Columbia's season ends in nail-biter playoff loss

JACKSONVILLE – Columbia’s boys basketball team had to really dig deep trailing by double digits with the season on the line. But even inside a loud gymnasium – sometimes deafening – the Tigers refused to be silenced.

After crawling back from a 17-point deficit, guard Marquez Bell cut Englewood’s lead down to just three points on a coast-to-coast layup with 24 seconds remaining.

The clutch fast break score highlighted his team’s furious fourth-quarter rally, yet it wasn’t enough to upset the Rams, who buried a few free throws late to escape with a 70-64 Region 1-7A quarterfinal win over Columbia Thursday night.

“I can’t remember being more proud of a group in my coaching career,” Columbia head coach Steve Faulkner said after the defeat. “We obviously dug a big hole early, but we fought our tails off.”

Like they’ve done time and time again this season, the Tigers didn’t fold despite a rough start to the contest. Columbia rallied back, though, using a second-quarter scoring run to get back into contention. But giving up second-chance points and poor shooting from the charity stripe down the stretch deterred the Tigers from winning their first playoff game in 18 years. Columbia’s 16 missed free throws, including six in the fourth, proved costly for the young Tigers.

“The two things that have kind of been our achilles’ heel all year have been free throws and rebounding,” Faulkner said. “We had the chance. That’s the thing, we had plenty of chances to make this happen. If we would have made seven more free throws, we’re having a different conversation…It’s extremely frustrating but I try to stay positive. These kids fought their tails off. To get in a 17-point hole and to keep clawing, the one thing we talked about in timeouts is chipping away, just chip away. And that’s what they did.”

District 3 champion Englewood (22-4) scored the game’s first nine points against Columbia (19-9). The Rams’ early celebration didn’t last though. Bobby Fulton, who finished with a game-high 20 points, led the Tigers’ comeback attack. Hot shooting from behind the arc helped the visitors cut the deficit in half in the second quarter.

“They got hot,” said Jordan Smith, who finished with 15 points. “But throughout the game, they settled down, they weren’t doing all that shooting. And we made our comeback – we just made it too late. We should have made it sooner.”

Englewood failed to capitalize on its 11-point halftime lead. Columbia slowly chewed into the deficit throughout the fourth. The Tigers’ rally hit its peak in the game’s final minute. Fulton’s putback brought the Rams’ lead to five, and Smith followed with his own layup with 30 seconds left. While Bell found the cup on the ensuing possession, the Rams managed to outlast the Tigers from the stripe late.

“Kudos to my guys,” Faulkner added. “They just fought their tails off. It’s a shame that I think this might be the best game we played all year. Outside of the free throw stuff, as far as getting a game-plan and executing it, fighting no matter what, it’s the most complete game we put together all year… We just kept fighting.”


Englewood will face Gainesville in next Tuesday’s regional semifinal. The Hurricanes defeated St. Augustine 74-36 at home Thursday night.


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