January 6, 2018 10:38:46 PM
When the Columbus High School boys basketball team elected to buy in on the defensive end Friday night, South Panola didn't have an answer.
A dominating defensive effort in the second half paved the way for Columbus to earn a 63-43 win in the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 6A, Region 2 opener for both teams.
"When we rebound and when we guard, we are almost unbeatable," Columbus coach Anthony Carlyle said. "Now doing that for four quarters has been a challenge. Consistency is the key. If we can play to our abilities for four quarters, we have a chance to make a long run."
Columbus has played a challenging schedule with multiple games against out-of-state opponents at prestigious national events. It boarded a bus late Friday night for a Saturday afternoon matchup against The Rock of Gainesville, Florida, at Mustang Madness in Paducah, Kentucky. Columbus slipped to 11-6 following a 62-54 loss. Stats from the game weren't available at press time.
Carlyle joked that tournament officials had originally scheduled him for a noon game, but he plea-bargained for a later start after an eight-hour bus ride.
Playing in these events has helped showcase three-time All-State selection Robert Woodard II. It also has conditioned the team for a run at a second state championships in three seasons.
"The schedule has really helped us for nights like tonight," Woodard II said. "We have played some teams where you have to play really hard and focused for four quarters, so on nights like this when we aren't at our best, we are still able to grind and find a way.
"We were a little sluggish in some areas, but we can learn and grow from this performance."
Carlyle rarely shows emotion on the sidelines, but he didn't take a first-half ending 10-2 run by the Tigers lightly. After dominating in the first quarter, Columbus led 32-27 at halftime.
In the third quarter, South Panola (4-5, 0-1) was held to one field goal -- a 3-pointer with a minute left in the quarter.
"We just had to start defending better," Columbus senior Denijay Harris said. "We got into them a lot better in the second half. I think they left the floor with a lot of confidence, so we had to snuff that out."
Columbus did that rather quickly with 10 points in the first two minutes of the third quarter.
The lock-down defense of Casey Smith and Tyrin Johnson then led to some turnovers. South Panola had five in the stretch of 45 seconds. Three led to easy baskets on the other end.
Columbus also finally hit an alley-oop. Known for his up-tempo, rim-rattling style of play, Columbus tried five alley-oop/dunk passes before Woodard II finally brought the house down on the squad's sixth attempt.
"When we don't hit our crowd plays, you know something might be a little off," Woodard II said. "We just went back to the basics. Rebounding and defense really carried us."
Columbus had seven
offensive rebounds in the first quarter to build a 21-11 lead. The Falcons only had one of those in the second quarter. In the final half, Columbus fought hard for every loose ball and every rebound and made the most of every possession.
"Good defense comes from rebounding," Carlyle said. "That's an effort stat. Both phases of the game come from effort. They fit well together. You could tell once we started nailing down the board, everything else took care of itself."
Woodard II had 26 points, 10 rebounds, four steals, three blocked shots, and seven assists. Harris had 14 points and 10 rebounds.
The Falcons were playing for the first time since a second-place finish at the Arby's Classic in Tennessee.
"That tournament helped us so much," said Woodard II, who was named to the all-tournament team with Harris. "It got us focused in on region play and finishing this run for a state championship. We have been on the road so much. We have grown up a lot."
n South Panola girls 48, Columbus 47: In the opener, the Lady Falcons suffered a heart-breaking defeat.
Columbus held a 35-30 lead and ball possession with 7 minutes, 45 seconds remaining. The Lady Tigers hit two 3-pointers to take the lead and then stalled for a good portion of the quarter.
After Hannah White drained a 3-pointer with 12.5 seconds left, Columbus couldn't get a foul called before time expired.
"We didn't execute well at the end of the game," Columbus coach Yvonne Hairston said. "We just didn't take care of the basketball there at the end. It was a hard-fought, physical game. We just didn't make as many shots as we needed to there at the end."
White had 27 points, while Berniya Hardin had 10 for Columbus (11-5, 0-1).
"After we had a couple of turnovers there, we lost our confidence," White said. "I think that is something we have to work. You have to play confidence. When you make a mistake, you can't get down."
Columbus erased a 10-point deficit early in the second quarter to take a 25-23 halftime lead. The Lady Falcons stretched that lead seven before the Lady Tigers (4-8, 1-0) rallied.
Columbus will return to region play Friday at Oxford.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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