February 14, 2018 10:30:34 AM
BATESVILLE -- Columbus High School junior Greg King has never enjoyed playing basketball more.
When one asks about his toughness playing defense for one of the state's premier teams, a bright smile lights up his face.
"We play great defense," King said. "That is how this team wins. It is our identity. It is what we do. We are going to play some great defense for four quarters. You have to work hard for everything you get."
Columbus won its 11th-straight game with another defensive masterpiece in a 48-15 victory against South Panola in the opening round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 6A, Region 2 tournament.
Top-seeded Columbus (22-6) will face No. 2 seed Oxford (20-5) at 8:30 p.m. Friday for the tournament championship. Both teams earned playoff berths and postseason home games by winning Tuesday night. Friday's winner also will earn a first-round bye and need one home win to advance to Jackson.
Oxford beat Tupelo 50-35 in the other semifinal.
Columbus' victory took time to develop. The Falcons missed their first 12 shots from the field.
"That's why we always preaching playing great defense," Columbus coach Anthony Carlyle said. "You never know when your offense will leave you. It was a struggle early in the game. We had some good looks, too. Our defense was outstanding. The pressure forced a lot of turnovers and eventually we got some easy baskets out of it."
Columbus applied full-court pressure for most of the first half and used its size and length to overplay the passing lanes. South Panola had 14 turnovers in the second quarter.
Robert Woodard II slammed a putback home to end the first quarter and give the Falcons a 10-4 lead.
In the second quarter, Columbus had better ball movement, Casey Smith started making some shots, and the defensive effort was even better.
South Panola hit a 3-pointer as the first half expired to cut the deficit to 24-7.
"We just needed a little more patience on offense. We were rushing some shots," Smith said. "Nothing is going to diminish our hard work on the defensive end. You can tell when the other team is running low on options and is frustrated."
King, Smith, Woodard II, and RJ DeLoach were dominant on the defensive end. Woodard II added three steals and two blocked shots in the 14-0 run to start the second quarter.
Columbus followed with a 13-0 run to start the third quarter. The period also ended with another monster dunk from Woodard II on a putback as the horn sounded for a 39-10 lead.
South Panola (6-16) was held to two 3-pointers, three two-point field goals, and three free throws.
Woodard II had 10 points, 13 rebounds, four blocks, and five steals. Denijay Harris had 10 points and nine rebounds. Smith had 10 points and three assists.
"It feels great to clinch a playoff berth," Carlyle said. "That's the first step to winning a championship. Now we have to come out and take care of business Friday so we give ourselves a better position. You want to have one game for Jackson. That's a good place to be."
n Columbus girls 63, Oxford 31: The top-seeded Lady Falcons also nailed down a playoff berth with an easy win.
Columbus (18-5) will face No. 2 seed Tupelo (20-8) at 7 Friday night for the region championship. Both teams will play host in the playoffs. Friday's winner will earn a first-round bye.
Tupelo beat South Panola 56-42 in the other tournament semifinal.
Columbus coach Yvonne Hairston had a heart to heart with junior Deryona Smith at halftime. Columbus held a 32-19 lead but looked sluggish in some areas.
"We just needed more from her," Hairston said. "In the second half, she stepped up and was really dominant. She got open close to the basket and made some shots."
Columbus used consistent full-court pressure to beat Oxford twice in the regular season. Similar pressured allowed Columbus to build a nine-point lead in the first quarter. In the second quarter, Oxford had more answers and penetrated the pressure for easy baskets in the lane.
"Our defensive effort was subpar in the first half," Hairston said. "We had some tightness early. However, I really thought we responded as the game wore on. Our pressure affected them and we were able to wear them down."
Columbus blew the game open with a 12-0 run midway through the third quarter. Deryona Smith, Bri Smith, and Hannah White set the tone on the defensive end.
White also had 14 of her 19 points in the second half. White added 12 rebounds and five steals. Deryona Smith had 16 points and 10 rebounds. Keayra Hughes had 11 points.
"Having a pair of double-doubles indicates the effort we played with," Hairston said. "We were dominant on the boards and did a great job in the second half of getting some turnovers off the defense."
The Columbus girls will face the same challenge as the Columbus boys: beat an opponent for the third time this season.
"We extended the season, and that is huge," Hairston said. "I am really proud of this team and what they have been able to accomplish. We need to play well Friday night. Winning the championship gives you a better chance at Jackson. We just want to keep playing well. Each time out, we want to continue to play well."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
5. MSU men roll over Vanderbilt to reach .500 in league play COLLEGE SPORTS