January 19, 2013 11:12:41 PM
The T-shirt says it all.
A year ago, the Columbus High School girls basketball team had its title dreams end in a loss to Horn Lake in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 6A North State semifinals.
The loss was even more heartbreaking considering the Lady Falcons rallied from a double-digit deficit and appeared primed to take a step closer to their goal. The setback at Southaven High steeled the Columbus High players for another run at a championship and gave them the motivation they wear on their backs: "Unfinished Business."
On Friday, Columbus showed achieving that goal remains a work in progress as they built a 32-point lead in the first half and then watched South Panola cut that lead to 11 in the fourth quarter only to pull away for a 76-59 victory.
"We got to play a lot harder than we played," Columbus coach Yvonne Hairston said. "It was a little bit too close with about five minutes left in the ballgame."
Kiki Patterson, a Mississippi State University signee, led Columbus (10-6) with 21 points, while Daisha Williams added 20. Kadaryal Ledbetter had 13 points, and LaTerrica Jefferson, Kameron Corrothers, and Brinna Hughes each added seven to help Columbus rebound from a 75-72 loss to Tupelo on Wednesday night.
In the boys game, Columbus had seven of its 12 misses from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter in a 53-49 loss to South Panola. The loss dropped to Falcons to 11-7 and 3-3 in Class 6A, Region 2.
Hairston said the Lady Falcons are going to have to play a lot harder, especially because they likely will face the Lady Tigers in a knockout game in the district tournament at South Panola. A loss in that game would end Columbus' season. That would be unacceptable for Patterson and Williams, the team's senior leaders who have taken on bigger roles without Maggie Proffitt, who transferred to Starkville Academy. Patterson and Williams showed a knack for scoring at ease in transition and extending defenses with their 3-point shooting range.
Patterson agreed with Hairston that the Lady Falcons can play harder.
"We haven't reached our full potential yet tot he point where everything is clicking on all cylinders," Patterson said. "We had a couple of mental breakdowns where we let them come back. ... We can't have those letdowns because we're trying to go to the Big House (the home for the MHSAA state title games)."
Patterson said there are night when Columbus can be "real good." On the flip side, she said there are nights when the team can be "real bad." For example, Hairston called a timeout in the first quarter and one in the fourth quarter when she wasn't pleased with the Lady Falcons' effort on defense or how quickly they hustled back on defense. Ledbetter responded the first time, taking a pass from Patterson and converting a three-point play. She also had a steal and went in for a layup to trigger a 25-0 run that stretched from the first quarter into the second quarter.
Ledbetter wasn't the focus of Hairston's frustration in each timeout, but she knows what the Lady Falcons have to do to deliver the knockout punch earlier in games to make their lives easier.
"We can work hard, but we just choose not to," Ledbetter said. "We need to work harder in practice. Then we will be all right for the games."
Ledbetter said a key to getting to the Big House will be "attacking the basket." She feels the team has enough weapons and has players like Bethany Jones, Brianna Edinburgh, and Hughes off the bench who can led a hand. The more hands Columbus can get into the mix, the better its chances will be to take care of its unfinished business.
"No matter when you're on the floor, you have to stay focused for the whole 32 minutes, and we didn't do that tonight," Hairston said. "We got kind of lackadaisical. ... We are a shooting team. We like to shoot the ball, but when you shoot the ball some nights those balls aren't going in. Tonight, they were falling. We went to Tupelo on Wednesday night, so those are the kind of things you get when you're a shooting team. That's why we're trying to work the ball into our post players and then work the ball out."
For the Falcons, coach Sammy Smith was surprised his team, which has prided itself on defense and execution on offense, didn't deliver on either aspect. He credited the Tigers for outexecuting his team down the stretch for the victory.
"Something I would have never thought at this time of the year that we would do is close games out at home and execute," Smith said. "I didn't push the right buttons down the stretch to call plays. Not hitting any free throws down the stretch hurt us."
Devin Berry, The Dispatch's Prep Player of the Week last week, scored a season-high 30 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, but the Falcons committed two costly turnovers in the fourth quarter. Brandon Porter's converted a three-point play following an aggressive drive from the left wing to tie the scorer at 42 with 5 minutes, 8 seconds remaining. The teams exchanged baskets before R.J. Scott hit a jumper and Myron Powell drained a 3-pointer with 3:08 to provide all the cushion South Panola needed.
"We didn't rest on our defense," Smith said. "The best thing we have is our defense. We didn't do it collectively, and when you don't do it collectively it is tough."
Berry crashed in to follow a miss by Porter to trim the deficit to 51-49 with 17 seconds to go, but Columbus didn't commit its seventh team foul until seven seconds remained. Josh Madison hit both free throws to seal the deal.
Columbus has completed region play. Smith said the Falcons can finish first, second, or third and will have to wait for the remaining games to decide its positioning for the district tournament at South Panola. He hopes the latest loss serves as motivation for his team to play with the focus and execution it needs to get back to the North State tournament.
"I just never thought we would shut it down on defense, but we did," Smith said. "In crucial times like that, we take those games. We didn't go forward like men of character are supposed to. When you don't bow up in games like that you will get beat because better teams are stronger and smarter and they will execute."
Columbus will play host to Starkville on Tuesday.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.