February 13, 2013 12:05:33 PM
Scott Walters - firstname.lastname@example.org
BATESVILLE -- The Columbus High School boys basketball team got exactly the type of game it wanted.
In an opening-round matchup at the Class 6A, Region 2 tournament, the Falcons were engrossed in a physical, defensive struggle. So many times this season, Sammy Smith's squad excelled when defense was key and every stop proved critical.
On Tuesday, though, Columbus saw its season end with a 46-40 loss to Grenada at the South Panola High.
Second-seeded Grenada will meet fourth-seeded South Panola for the region championship Friday night. South Panola upset regular-season champion Tupelo 64-62 in overtime.
With those victories, Grenada and South Panola will advance to the Mississippi High School Activities Association's Class 6A North State playoffs.
After splitting two regular-season games, Columbus struggled to find its shooting rhythm and fell behind early.
"It was an offensive struggle," Columbus senior Roshad Meeks said. "I don't think our mind-set was there. We didn't play as hard as we could have. We didn't shoot the ball as well as we could of. We got off all the shots we wanted but we couldn't get anything going."
The Falcons (15-8) missed 13 of 16 shots in the opening quarter and trailed 13-6 after one period. The Chargers (15-10) managed 32 points in a regular-season meeting four weeks ago, so a fast start was critical.
"Everything I could have pulled out of my bag I pulled out," Smith said. "We had good shots, but we just didn't make them. I pride myself in being a coach who puts his kids in a position win ballgames. Tonight, I don't think I did that. It was all on me for not doing the things I was supposed to do."
Despite the offensive struggles, Columbus established an alarming pattern. Center Devin Berry, the workhorse in the team's second half-surge, settled for floaters in the lane instead of getting his way to the glass.
"We got a lot of 8- to-10-foot shots, and that is not our game," Meeks said. "We need to be shooting outside shots or layups. It really wasn't anything Grenada did. It was all a matter of what we didn't do. We didn't do a lot of the things that made us successful throughout the year."
Columbus' defense kept it in the game. While the Falcons improved their ball movement, the scoreboard didn't show the results, as Grenada took a 20-16 halftime lead.
"We started off slow and it really hurt us," said Berry, who joined Meeks and Remadus Beasley as seniors on the team. "The program has a bright future, but this game was tough. We all tried hard at the last minute. We really didn't use any of the firepower we had the second half of the season."
The Falcons appeared to right the ship in the third quarter, scoring five straight points to take a 24-23 advantage with 4 minutes, 55 seconds left in the period. Columbus took its first lead since 2-0 after going to Berry inside for points on three straight possessions.
As quickly as the sun rose for the Falcons, it set again. An old-fashioned 3-point play by center Trey Bledsoe pushed the Chargers to a 29-25 advantage. Despite being four inches shorter than Berry, Bledsoe set the tone underneath and got a lot of help from junior guard Tyrin Jones.
"It was just disappointing we couldn't complete the shots we were getting," Berry said. "The better team won this game tonight."
While the Falcons found the going tough inside, the Chargers fortified their lead. Back-to-back scores to start the fourth quarter extended the margin to double digits.
"I thought we played hard but we didn't make shots," Smith said. "Grenada's perimeter game was good. We thought we had it fixed at halftime. We made some adjustments. But once we got the lead, they really turned it up and we couldn't answer. I didn't make some good adjustments when it mattered there at the end."
Brandon Porter paced Columbus with 10 points. Berry had nine points and 10 rebounds. Jones led Grenada with 20 points, while Bledsoe added 13.
For Meeks, the final bus ride of his prep basketball career started after a moment of thought. There was much to reflect on since Meeks was a major contributor on a seven-win, playoff-participant football team and a 15-win basketball team.
"It was my 12th-grade year and it was a fantastic season," Meeks said. "I really enjoyed being in a leadership position. Whether it was doing the little things on offense or setting an example on defense, I enjoyed my role. It was fun watching my teammates, friends, and brothers grow. We had some really great times together. You wait your whole life for your 12th-grade season and then it feels like it is over in minutes."
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter