Guy Dossi
The Union Democrat

Saturday night could have had a negative outcome on the remainder of the Columbia Claim Jumpers season.

Columbia blew a 10-point halftime lead against the College of Sequoias Giants. There was a verbal altercation on the Jumpers bench during a timeout which resulted in head coach Rob Hoyt snapping a dry erase board. Hoyt later referred to the timeout as “instant adversity, which was much needed.”

The Jumpers ended up trailing the Giants with under 10 minutes to play. With a loss, Columbia would have fallen to 1-1 in Central Valley Conference play with its next three games on the road, starting Wednesday with conference kingpin Fresno.

But the Jumpers dug deep and found a way to get a 66-59 victory at Oak Pavilion. The win not only kept the Jumpers on track, but it showed that they can beat one of the top teams in the conference.

“This is the only significant team that we’ve beat in this building since I’ve been here,” Hoyt said. “We beat them once my first year and then again tonight. While we’ve beaten other teams here and we respect them, they are not Sequoias. That’s a very well coached team.”

The Jumpers carried their strong second half defensive performance from Wednesday’s win over Reedley into the first half against the Giants. Sequoias started the night scoring the first five points and then ended the half with a buzzer 3-pointer. Asides from those eight points, Columbia allowed only nine points in 16 minutes.

“The defense in the first half and the defense in the second half against Reedley were the two best performances we’ve had,” Hoyt said. “Tonight, we did a really detailed job of prepping what they do. Our guys did a good job of absorbing that information and then executing it. Defensively, that first half was impressive. The growth of our guys mentally right now, it’s as if we have no freshmen on our team.”

With Columbia’s defense making stops, the offense slowly took over the game. Trailing 5-0, freshman Jordan Windly scored the Jumpers first five points. Joe Babineaux added two with a hook shot in the paint. Sophomore DeAndre Stallings scored five unanswered and Lewayne Grant hit a jumper as the shot clock expired to cap Columbia’s 14-0 run.

The Giants scored their first basket in nearly five minutes to cut the Jumpers lead to 14-7. Columbia responded with back-to-back buckets from freshman Ethan McLaurin.

“We were staying positive and communicating,” McLaurin said of the first half success. “We got stops and then were able to convert that on the offensive side. We were talking and that lifts us up while we are on defense.”

Columbia ended the first half with a 27-17 lead.

Early in the second half, Hoyt could see that his team was not playing with the same energy and passion they had earlier in the game. The Giants scored four unanswered to cut the Jumpers lead to 27-21. Freshman Eugene Harvey scored Columbia’s first basket following a rebound with 17:28 remaining in the game.

After Harvey’s bucket, Hoyt was quick to call a timeout. The coach was hoping to light a fire in his players and get them motivated to return to the way they were playing before the halftime break.

While his intentions were good, Hoyt’s intense pep talk did not yield the immediate results he had hoped for.

“We came out slow and with low energy,” Hoyt said. “They hit a couple of shots and I called a timeout to try to get a shot in the arm and get everybody going. That, in a way, backfired in the moment. In the end, I think it taught us just how together and how much grit we had with the different things that happened in that time out.”

The Jumpers did not respond to their coach’s words and allowed Sequoias to tie the game at 29-29 after being outscored 12-2 to begin the half.

Stallings scored with 14:55 remaining in the game to stop the run, but the Giants ended up taking the lead two minutes later.

For five minutes, Columbia and Sequoias traded the lead and neither team could put the other away. With the game tied at 39-39 and less than eight minutes to play, Stallings hit a long three with an assist from Grant to give Columbia a lead it would not relinquish.

“We just needed to stick together,” Grant said. “We are 10 deep and we believe in each other. We have each other’s back. When it comes to close games, we know that everybody is going to help each other out.”

Freshman Elan Spencer hit a hook shot and Grant scored on a hard drive to the rim. Columbia led 46-39 and the crowd did its best to help the Jumpers along by chanting, “DEFENSE. DEFENSE.” The majority of the crowd noise came from the bleachers high inside Oak Pavilion. The Sonora High School boys’ freshman basketball team was in attendance and they did their best to help motivate the Jumpers.

“If the Sonora High freshman basketball team wasn’t there, I’m not sure if we win,” Hoyt said. “I wanna give them credit because they changed the mood of the last 10 minutes of the game. They really lifted our guys when we were going through the adversity of the game.”

In the final three minutes of the game, Stallings and Grant accounted for all of Columbia’s 15 points. The two sophomores went 15 for 20 in the second half from the free throw line. Grant scored nine of his game-high 24 points from the charity stripe.

“I didn’t feel any pressure at the line,” Grant said. “My teammates believe in me and before every shot, they came up to me in the huddle and said, ‘You are going to make these free throws.’ By them instilling confidence in me, I had confidence in myself and I was able to just knock them down.”

McLaurin put the game away with a late steal and Columbia improved to 2-0.

Asides from scoring 24, Grant had seven assists, four steals and four rebounds. Stallings had a double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Babineaux scored six, Ethan Mclaurin scored five, Windley added five, Spencer scored four, Eli McLaurin pulled down five rebounds and added two points and Harvey scored two.

Columbia (7-6, 2-0 CVC) will face Fresno (13-4, 2-0 CVC) at 5 p.m. Wednesday in Fresno.

“Hopefully we can carry this momentum of starting 2-0 into Fresno,” said Ethan McLaurin. “But we just have to keep our energy up and our positive vibes up.”

Contact Guy Dossi at (209) 588-4538 or gdossi@uniondemocrat and follow him on Twitter at @DossiGuy