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Columbus ready for annual Joe Horne Christmas Classic


Columbus High School’s Robert Woodard II, center, the Falcons, and the Starkville High boys basketball team, also pictured above, will participate in the 21st-annual Joe Horne Christmas Classic this weekend in Columbus.

Columbus High School’s Robert Woodard II, center, the Falcons, and the Starkville High boys basketball team, also pictured above, will participate in the 21st-annual Joe Horne Christmas Classic this weekend in Columbus. Photo by: Dispatch File Photo


Adam Minichino



The learning continues for the Columbus High School boys basketball team. 


There has been plenty of practice on free-throw shooting lately, too, since the team's last game, a 58-53 loss to Starkville on Saturday in Starkville.  


Columbus coach Anthony Carlyle said the Falcons (5-3) went 5-for-19 from the free-throw line in the loss, and had "10 or 11" of those misses in the second quarter. The problems at the free-throw line helped the Yellow Jackets earn a measure of revenge after the Falcons won the first meeting, 64-62 on Nov. 14 in Columbus. 


Columbus and Starkville won't play against each other this weekend, but the schools' boys and girls teams as well as the New Hope High boys will be in action at the 21st-annual Joe Horne Christmas Classic at Columbus High. 


The event, which is named in honor of the former scorekeeper for Columbus High basketball and longtime supporter of the school's sports who died in 2003, will kick off this afternoon and run all day Saturday. The marquee matchup between the Columbus and New Hope boys teams is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. Saturday. 


Carlyle, who is in his first season as Columbus coach, has attended the Joe Horne tournament in previous years, most recently with his former Velma Jackson High boys teams. He said this year's event will feature the recognition of a game MVP from the winning team of each game. He said everything else will remain the same for a tournament he knows ranks with the best in the region. The only major difference is games today won't start until this afternoon due to the fact Columbus High is still in school. In past years, Columbus High has been finished with school for 2017, so the tournament could start earlier Friday. In past years, the school's auxiliary gym has been used when the event has had bigger fields. This year, only the school's main gym will be used. 


Carlyle hopes Columbus (5-3) responds better than it did in its last back-to-back tournament. Earlier this season, Columbus beat Hazel Green (Ala.) 62-52 on Nov. 24 at the Lighthouse Classic in Corinth. Columbus lost to Madison Prep (La.) 47-42 on Nov. 25. 


"I thought we didn't play well at all the second night," Carlyle said. "I am not sure if we were dealing with a little fatigue, but in this situation I want to see if the team has learned from it and try so we can try to put together consecutive games to get a win." 


Senior Robert Woodard II had a game-high 20 points, while Denijay Harris added 16 in the loss to Starkville. Carlyle said he is looking for more consistent contributions from players like Greg King, RJ Deloach, Casey Smith, and Aaron Johnson. He said he also hopes to continue to develop a bench so the Falcons will have a deeper rotation to help them stay fresh over the course of a long season. He said finding that rhythm has been tough because the Falcons haven't gotten into a routine of playing multiple games during the week. That should change in 2018, when Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) teams kick off region play. 


"It has been kind of hard to get guys in to get a true feel," said Carlyle, whose team also has battled illness this week. "We have been making progress in practice." 


Columbus High girls basketball coach Yvonne Hairston also is seeing improvement in her squad. Columbus is coming off a 45-40 loss to Starkville on Saturday. Columbus lost to the first meeting between the teams 48-27 in Columbus. 


"We played extremely well," Hairston said of the second loss for her team, which is 5-2. "We had some mishaps and missed some assignments and they stuck some late threes in the fourth quarter. We tried to keep battling back. I expected them to do that." 


Hairston praised the efforts of Starkville senior guard Jariyah Covington, who spearheaded the Lady Yellow Jackets' rally from a halftime deficit. She also said her players were more relaxed and poised after she felt they felt the effects of the pressure in the first meeting. 


Hairston said she continues to see the confidence of her players increase. She hopes to see that this weekend in games against Minor (Ala.) and Murrah, which is expected to be one of the top teams in the state this season. 


"We had meeting of the minds (after the first loss to Starkville) and said we have to get it done," Hairston said. "They were frustrated, too, by the way they played. They have just settled in and they have started to believe in what we are teaching.  


"We just have to stay consistent what we're doing. We're young, and I am hoping we have gotten all the jitters out and just come out and play." 


Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor 



Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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