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This time, the Hawks won’t be at home.

This time, the room for error may be even smaller.

This time, they are going to need their best from their leader.

Awaiting Las Positas is Columbia College, the No. 4 seed in the NorCal bracket. Tipoff is Saturday, March 5 at 7 p.m. at Oak Pavilion. The Hawks have to travel 100 miles and will have fewer than 48 hours to prepare if they are to make it past the third round for the first time in the program’s history.

Sophomore guard Lee Jones Jr. committed seven of the Hawks’ 16 turnovers in Thursday’s playoff game against Porterville College. Las Positas escaped with a 86-76 victory. But that was against a No. 12 seed, and it was in the friendly confines of the Nest. 

“I think we need to take care of the ball better,” Hawks coach James Giacomazzi said. “I thought we were rushing at times and that kind of sped us up into some turnovers.”

After a 65-64 win over San Joaquin Delta, Columbia coach Rob Hoyt announced on social media that the 250 capacity cap will remain in place for Las Positas’ visit on Saturday. So the Claim Jumpers raucous crowd won’t have its full arsenal.

It still figures to be a tough place to play for Las Positas. Columbia has won 17 straight at home and have been beaten in their own gym since March 7, 2020.

“I haven’t studied them quite frankly,” Giacomazzi said. “I was so focused on this game. But I’m starting to now. What I do know is that they have some really good players, a really good coach and are a great team at home.” 

The Hawks will need composure and execution. That’s usually Jones’ specialty. He’s a true point guard who has been pivotal to the Hawks’ success. But Thursday, he managed just five points. He did have seven assists, but that was negated by his turnovers. It was just the third time this season Jones had four or more turnovers.

Giacomazzi believes that Jones’ turnovers come from him trying to do too much on the offensive end. He wants Jones to let the game come to him rather than trying to force shots and passes through the defense.

“I think he can keep it simple,” Giacomazzi said. “If you take what the defense gives you and not force as much, I think that would be helpful for him and our team.”

Lee Jones Jr. glides in for a floater in Las Positas College’s win over Porterville on March 3, 2022. Photo by Alan Lewis/The Express

Another area of concern is fouling. The Hawks had a problem with fouls against Porterville. Freshman Jordahn Johnson fouled out of the game. Freshmen Jorren Edmonds, Brandon Fisher and Dathan Stachell played had four fouls each. 

Foul trouble has been a recurring theme for the Hawks all year. In both losses to City College this season, the Hawks averaged 20 team fouls and have had at least one player foul out in both games.

“We need to stop playing defense with our hands so much,” said Giacomazzi. “We got to be able to move our feet a little better and stop relying on our hands.”

These issues are fixable for the Hawks. The turnovers could be mitigated by slowing the game down and going inside to Johnson, as they did in Thursday’s game. Johnson scored 12 points before fouling out, 10 coming in the second half when Las Positas took control.

But a big part of controlling the game will be Jones. As the floor general and veteran leader, a good game from him will be important. The Hawks need him running the offense, putting his scorer’s in position to prosper, avoiding turnovers and making plays when he needs to.

If the Hawks’ dream season is to continue, they need Jones to be as good as he’s been all season.

“It’s a lot on the line,” Jones said, “so there’s going to be a lot of energy in that gym.”

Staff writer Gibran Beydoun contributed to this article.

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