LAGRANGE — Midway through the third quarter Friday night, it appeared Columbia could coast its way to its 10th straight Patriot Athletic Conference victory.
Keystone had other plans.
A 14-0 run from the end of the third quarter to the start of the fourth temporarily gave the Wildcats the lead.
But the Raiders’ suffocating defense and clutch free throw shooting ended the threat as they escaped with a 50-47 PAC crossover victory.
Columbia improves to 14-1 overall and10-0 in the league, while Keystone falls to 5-11, 4-6.
“We’ve talked to them all year that we have to trust our defense, especially when you struggle a bit on offense,” Columbia coach Larry Babics said.
“You’ve got to give Keystone’s defense credit to our struggle on offense, but when you get in these kinds of game, you’ve got to be able to stop people. In the end, we did that enough to get the win.”
With 2:50 left in the third quarter, a three-point play by senior Zach Stopper — who led all scorers with 19 points, including an 8-for-8 performance from the line — gave the Raiders a seemingly comfortable 41-28 lead.
Then the game was turned on its head by Keystone’s young lineup.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by reserves Matt Bastock (team-high 13 points) and freshman Austin Conrad (eight points) cut Columbia’s lead to five with 1:40 remaining. Conrad followed with a clutch layup with 30 seconds remaining to make it a three-point game, and junior Collin Fitzgerald beat the buzzer with a dash down the court and a layup to cut the Raiders’ lead to 41-40.
Fitzgerald hit a pair of free throws with 6:20 left in regulation to give Keystone its first lead, 42-41, and capped the 14-0 run.
“We had two freshmen (Conrad and Brandon Kuhl), a sophomore (C.J. Conrad) and two juniors (Bastock and Fitzgerald) out there at that time, and at one point there were two freshmen, two sophomores and one junior,” Keystone coach Jeff Holzhauer said. “That’s when we made our run. I thought those young guys really stepped it up and did some really nice things.”
Columbia’s defense rose to the occasion in the fourth quarter, however. A Fitzgerald layup with 22 seconds left was Keystone’s only field goal in the fourth quarter, and the Raiders forced nine of the Wildcats’ 29 turnovers during the final eight minutes.
“At that point, I’m just thinking that we need to keep shooting and we need to keep playing solid defense and not give up easy shots and get rebounds,” Stopper said. “My teammates did a good job hitting shots, and if my shots weren’t falling, they’d come back and hit their shots. As long as we get the ‘W,’ I don’t care how many points I score.”
Junior John Banyasz, whose had four first-half 3-pointers and 16 points in all, said hustle and heart helped them rise to the occasion in the fourth.
“If your shots aren’t falling, you have to make up for it on the other end of the floor,” he said. “We had a lot of kids playing a lot of minutes tonight, and it really came down to how much you’re still hustling and how much you want to win. As a team, we want to win every single night out.”
Banyasz made one of the biggest plays of the fourth quarter. After Brandon Severo split a pair of free throws to give Columbia a 46-44 lead, Banyasz timed his leap perfectly, picking off a Keystone pass at midcourt and sprinting down the court for an easy layup to make it 48-44 with 2:47 remaining.
The final moments weren’t without drama. Fitzgerald’s layup made it a 49-47 deficit, and Banyasz only made one of two free throws with 20.2 seconds remaining to make it a one-possession game.
Keystone worked the ball to Bastock, who had already knocked down three 3-pointers, but he missed another attempt from the left wing.
Severo, who got the rebound and was promptly fouled, missed both free throws, giving Keystone another chance with 4.1 seconds left. But Jacob Simon picked off a long inbounds pass at midcourt and dribbled out the clock.
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or email@example.com.
Columbia 50, Keystone 47
COLUMBIA (50): Zach Stopper 5-8-19, Jay Banyasz 5-2-16, Jacob Simon 5-0-11, Brandon Severo 0-2-2, Kevin Simon 0-2-2, Michael Boey 0-0-0, Tyler Edmisten 0-0-0. Totals 15-14-50.
KEYSTONE (47): C.J. Conrad 3-2-8, Adam Hopkins 2-2-6, Collin Fitzgerald 2-2-6, Brandon Kuhl 2-0-4, Chase Robison 1-0-2, Matt Bastock 4-2-13, Austin Conrad 3-0-8, K.J. Williams 0-0-0. Totals 17-8-47.
Columbia 13 16 12 9 — 50
Keystone 9 8 23 8 — 47
Three-point goals: Columbia 6-17 (Banyasz 4, Stopper, J. Simon), Keystone 5-16 (Bastock 3, A. Conrad 2); Field goals: Columbia 15-40 (38 percent), Keystone 17-46 (37 percent); Free throws: Columbia 14-20 (70 percent), Keystone 8-15 (53 percent); Rebounds: Columbia 17 (J. Simon 5), Keystone 43 (C.J. Conrad 12, Robison 10); Turnovers: Columbia 14, Keystone 29; Total fouls: Columbia 14, Keystone 17.
Junior varsity: Columbia, 39-34