At the end of the day, it was only a four-point loss. Yet the two possession defeat came at a very inopportune time.
The Columbia Claim Jumpers have now fallen three games under .500 at 1-4 and have dropped back-to-back games in its home gym. So even though the 78-74 loss to South Puget Sound Tuesday night looked close on the scoreboard, it left the Jumpers with an even more difficult hole to dig out of.
But five games into the season, head Columbia head coach Rob Hoyt doesn’t believe it is time to panic.
“It feels like we are on the hump and just can’t get over it,” Hoyt said. “But we are right there. We are very close to that and I think we are going to get there. The ultimate goal is to be good by January and I think we are really close.”
The Clippers made the 787-mile trip from Olympia, Washington to Oak Pavilion, and the Jumpers are wishing sophomore Dez Stoudamire would have stayed home. Stoudamire was Columbia’s main player it needed to slow down and he responded with seven 3-pointers and 24 points.
“We needed to do a better job on the priority (Stoudamire),” Hoyt said. “He can’t hit seven threes. If he hits half of that, we win the game. That’s unacceptable to me. He hit seven threes, some of them were contested, but maybe four of them were wide open. It’s unacceptable and I have to do a better job.”
While Stoudamire was unstoppable, he was not the leading scorer of the night. Columbia sophomore DeAndre Stallings finished the game with 30 points. Stallings was coming off a 1 for 14 shooting performance Saturday against Butte and believed he owed it to his teammates to have a big night.
“I felt like I didn’t play hard the last three games and I needed to play harder,” Stallings said.
Stallings, along with freshman Ethan McLaurin, helped get Columbia off to a fast start. Trailing 8-6, Stallings and McLaurin facilitated an 8-0 which ended with back-to-back 3s from McLaurin.
But the Clippers responded with an 8-0 run of their own and led 16-14. Stallings hit his second three of the night and Columbia retook the lead. The Jumpers got baskets from Eugene Harvey, Tracy Hampton and Lewayne Grant and led 24-21.
Columbia led 32-26 following a coast-to-coast basket from Grant, but South Puget Sound went on another 8-0 run and took a 34-32 lead with 1:26 left in the first half.
McLaurin hit his third 3 of the half and Stallings scored his 12th first half point with seconds remaining on the scoreboard. But Stoudamire drained a 3 from the top of the key as the buzzer sounded to give the Clippers a 40-37 halftime lead.
Of Columbia’s 37 first half points, 24 came from 3-point land. Hampton and McLaurin made three 3s and Stallings had two. Stallings led the Jumpers with 12 points.
“We wanted to take what they were giving to us,” Grant said. “DeAndre was hot and we were trying to get it to him. Once he gets it going, that can open it up for the rest of us.”
But where the Jumpers found themselves in trouble was with turnovers and the Clippers seemed to capitalize on each mistake.
“Nine times out of 10, you turn the ball over, it leads to points,” Grant said. “That was really changing the momentum of the game and I really need to do a better job taking care of the ball.”
Columbia looked to feed the hot hand in the second half, which was Stallings. After a Stallings basket, 6-foot-10 freshman Elan Spencer made back-to-back points in the paint, with the second a hard dunk. Stallings made two more shots and Columbia had a 47-42 lead after its 10-2 run.
“My teammates told me to step it up in the second half and they were going to give me the rock,” Stallings said. “We were doing alright early in the half.”
Yet with 13 minutes remaining in the game, all the momentum Columbia had was gone after Stoudamire hit another 3 to tie the game at 52-52. The Jumpers didn’t have the lead the rest of the night.
The Clippers outscored Columbia 15-5 and led 67-57 with 7:35 left in the game. The largest the South Puget Sound lead got was 74-62 with under five minutes to play.
“They shot the heck out of the ball,” Hoyt said. “We play zone and I believe in that. People can second guess it or say we should go to man, but we play zone. That’s what we are going to do. We need to get better at it.”
But the Jumpers nibbled back with help from strong shooting from the free throw line. Columbia finished the game 20-25 from the charity stripe.
Columbia made a late 10-4 run, but still ended up four points short.
“It didn’t feel like we got beat worse then by four, like the Butte game was a 16 point loss and it felt like we lost by 30,” Hoyt said. “This was an extreme game of runs because of the play from behind the arc from both teams. It felt like it could have gone either way at any time.”
Stallings finished the night with 30 points, 8-9 from the free throw line, pulled down 10 rebounds and had one block. Hampton and McLaurin had nine points. Grant scored nine of his 11 points from the free throw line, dished out eight assists and had four rebounds. Spencer had eight points, eight rebounds and three blocks. Windley scored three and Harvey scored two.
Columbia (1-4) returns to play at 6 p.m. on Friday as it hosts Simpson JV. A win on Friday could help erase the memory of the last two games.
“We are going through a little adversity right now,” Grant said. “But as long as we stick together, stay humble and be good teammates, it’s going to turn around for us.”