By DAN GOLDMAN
For 28 minutes and 45 seconds of Wednesday night's basketball game at Oak Pavilion between Columbia College and College of the Sequoias of Visalia, the Claim Jumpers looked every bit like a team that could compete for the Central Valley Conference title.
Unfortunately for the Claim Jumpers (13-9, 3-2), there was the little matter of the final 11:15 that came between them and a tie for first place in the CVC.
In a fast-paced game that featured 15 lead changes and nine ties, Sequoias' athleticism, coupled with Columbia's late-game frustration, allowed the Giants (11-9, 4-1) to outscore the Jumpers 27-10 in the aforementioned time frame while handing Columbia an 81-63 loss.
Columbia's defeat became all the more biting when previously undefeated Fresno (24-1, 4-1) was upset 97-81 in Modesto on Wednesday night, meaning Sequoias, and not the Jumpers, woke up this morning tied with the Rams for first place in the CVC.
"(Sequoias) executed down the stretch and we didn't," Columbia coach Andy Vasher said. "We just didn't play well for the last (11) minutes. That's something we're going to need to work on."
The opening stretch of minutes was an entirely different story for Columbia as Mike Smith displayed a shooting touch rarely seen this season. Columbia's point guard scored seven of his nine points in the first 2:22 of the game, including a 3-pointer with 17:38 to play in the first half that gave the Jumpers a 9-0 lead.
But, just as quickly, the Giants bounced back with eight straight points before tying the game at 12-12, the first of five ties in a first half that also featured nine lead changes.
After COS took its first lead of the game at 21-20 with 9:12 to play in the half, Brandon Russell wrested it right back for Columbia with a highlight-reel play. The Copperopolis native took a pass outside the key, dribbled once between his legs and then exploded along the baseline where he did a full 360 under the basket while in midair before gently dropping in a reverse layup.