December 22, 2012 10:36:17 PM
Columbus High School boys basketball coach Sammy Smith really likes when his team finds its defensive identity.
The Falcons found just that in the fourth quarter Friday of a nip-and-tuck battle at the Joe Horne Christmas Invitational.
Columbus forced Marion (Ark.) into turnovers on five consecutive possessions and then cashed in at the free throw line to post a 56-52 victory.
"We really had to be more aggressive on defense if wanted to win," Columbus junior Brandon Porter said. "When we get down the floor and battle for loose balls, it leads to easy baskets. That is the best way for us to open up our offense."
Things came easy early for Columbus. The Falcons found an early offensive rhythm, while the Patriots struggled from the field. An 8-0 run allowed Columbus to open a 14-7 advantage. Columbus built on that lead -- going up by as many as 15 -- before leading 28-16 at halftime.
"Everything was quiet," Smith said. "The fans were on the backs of their seat. Things came too easily. We built the nice lead and I think we let go of the pressure. Playing hard-nosed defense is what we have to do to win games. Once we returned to doing that, we were in much better shape."
Marion closed the deficit to four by the end of the third quarter, as the Falcons had turnover problems and the Wildcats used three 3-pointers from Darian Barnes to close the gap.
"We have to play defense for four quarters to have a chance to win," Columbus junior C.J. Scott said. "They forced us into some turnovers and got back into the ballgame rather quickly. We had to find ourselves on the defensive end. We feel like anytime we make a couple of stops, we can take control of a game."
The Falcons did that in the fourth quarter. Scott had four consecutive steals in the open court, Devin Berry forced two tieups and had a blocked shot, Remadus Beasley had critical rebounds, and Porter had a steal and was on the receiving end of two fast-break layups after turnovers.
Columbus also did its part at the free throw line, hitting 9 of 12 in the final quarter. Marion twice close to three, but Columbus' defense responded each time. A putback by Marion's Everett Thomas brought the Patriots within two with 13 seconds left in regulation. Porter answered with two free throws to seal the deal.
"It was an ugly win," Smith said. "This is the type of basketball we play. It's rugged, physical and hard-nosed, but you can also call it ugly. I am proud of the way we attacked in the fourth quarter. I have no problem collecting ugly wins."
Porter paced the Falcons with 15 points, including a 7-of-10 night from the field. Josh Turner added nine points and five assists. Porter and Berry combined for 18 rebounds and four blocked shots.
Barnes had 14 points to lead Marion, while Syndarian Spencer had 10.
While the contest wasn't elegant, Scott agreed with Smith.
"We like our ugly wins because they are wins," Scott said. "If you see us every day in practice, you can tell this team is getting better and better. We are beginning to find an identity on offense. However, we know what we have to do be successful, and that is play great defense. We did that tonight when we needed to most."
Girls: Meridian 57, Columbus 47
Columbus battled fourth-ranked Meridian on even terms for three quarter. The Lady Falcons then couldn't make a basket.
After a basket by Columbus' Daisha Williams tied the game at 43 with 6 minutes, 45 seconds remaining, Columbus missed 11 of its next 12 shots from the field.
Meridian (11-1) also turned up the defensive pressure, as its full-court attacking press created four turnovers in a six-possession stretch.
Columbus (7-4) called two timeouts but failed to slow the game-changing 10-0 run. The Lady Falcons went better than four minutes between baskets.
Miracle Dubose paced Meridian with 20 points, including 14 in the final half. Kayla Gordon added 16 points.
KiKi Patterson paced Columbus with 16 points.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter