February 17, 2018 11:34:44 PM
BATESVILLE -- It was late in the evening and that sinking feeling had set in on the Oxford sidelines.
The Columbus boys' basketball team was going on another run. Victory was a foregone conclusion.
Oxford had gone from tying to win to simply trying to score.
Columbus ripped off an 18-0 run midway through the third quarter, removing all doubt from a 56-25 win over Oxford in the championship game of the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 6A, Region 2 tournament.
"It's all about suffocating defense," Columbus senior Casey Smith said. "When all five guys play defense, we feel like we can be a tough team to beat. This team enjoys playing defense. That is what separates us from a lot of the other teams."
When the Class 6A playoffs begin, Columbus will receive a bye and will play host to a second-round playoff game Saturday. The Falcons need one win to get to Jackson and four wins to capture the school's second state championship in three seasons.
"Playing at home is a huge advantage in the playoffs," Columbus coach Anthony Carlyle said. "It was important to close out the region tournament the right way and to help our cause in the playoffs.
Columbus (23-6) won its 12th straight, with a perfect 9-0 record against all three region opponents.
The smallest margin of victory in a region game was 14 points. It was more of the same in the region tournament where the two victories were by a combined 64 points.
"Wearing down the opponents is the biggest thing for this team," Carlyle said. "We play so hard on the defensive end but we keep that pressure up for four quarters."
Columbus held an 18-10 lead at halftime. In the second half, the Falcons were dominant in all phases of the game.
Smith finished with 12 points and five assists to lead the Falcons. Robert Woodard II had 11 points and 10 rebounds. Aaron Johnson also added 11 points.
"This team is playing with a lot of confidence right now," Smith said. "We are ready for the playoffs and for some new challenges. This is the fun time of year."
n Columbus girls 42, Tupelo 36: A great night of defense was started earlier in the evening when the Lady Falcons also won a region championship by beating the Lady Wave for a third time.
Columbus had to rally to win at Tupelo in the closing seconds. At home, Columbus built a big lead early and cruised.
The third contest was different in that it featured Columbus gaining separation.
It was not different in that Hannah White had another dominating performance.
"Winning the region championship is big for this team," Columbus coach Yvonne Hairston said. "It is great to see all the hard work pay off. You want to go into the playoffs playing with a lot of confidence. We are doing that."
White finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Deryona Smith had 10 points and 11 rebounds to lead Columbus (19-5).
Columbus took the lead for good in the late stages of the second quarter.
The defense of Berniya Hardin, White and Smith helped give the squad a huge lift.
Columbus led 21-20 at halftime. A 10-2 run midway through the third quarter gave the Falcons a healthy lead the rest of the way.
"Good defense leads to offense for our team," White said. "Sometimes, we may need an extra player or two to get going. When we get a steal or an easy basket, it just gets everybody going."
Columbus will receive a first-round bye and will host a second-round playoff game Friday night. The Lady Falcons will enter the postseason needing four wins for a state championship.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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