Columbus High School senior Robert Woodard II kisses the gold ball, while his teammates celebrate a 47-37 victory against Meridian on Saturday night in the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 6A State championship game at Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson. Photo by: Bob Smith/Special to The Dispatch
March 10, 2018 11:14:23 PM
JACKSON -- Columbus High School's Denijay Harris checked out Alabama phenom Collin Sexton playing Kentucky on Saturday morning.
It might have been a little foreshadowing.
Harris scored 26 points -- including a second-half stretch of 16-straight points -- to help Columbus beat Meridian 47-37 in the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 6A State championship game Saturday night at Mississippi Coliseum.
Columbus (27-6) won its second state title in three seasons with another masterful defensive performance and all-around brilliance from Harris.
"When the team won the state two years ago, he didn't really have an effect," Columbus senior guard Casey Smith said. "I could sense at the hotel something special was coming. It was in his eyes. I could sense this morning he wanted to have a major impact on the game. This was going to be his championship."
Harris said the team's togetherness made the season-ending 16-game winning streak possible.
"On any given night, somebody was going to step up," Harris said. "It all starts on the defensive end. We are always going to play hard on defense. Somebody is going to do the scoring. On this night, it happened to be me. I am pretty pumped up about that."
After Columbus built a 15-9 lead after one quarter, Meridian (32-2) held the better of the activity for a long stretch. The Wildcats led 21-20 at halftime and had overcome a tough start to build momentum.
Around that time, a severe thunderstorm warning was issued outside the building. A Harris warning was issued in the building.
Harris scored the final seven points of the third quarter, including a 27-foot 3-pointer as the horn sounded for a 32-29 Columbus lead.
"I told him at halftime, he had to step up for us to win," Columbus senior Robert Woodard II said. "I didn't expect him to do all of that, but we will gladly take it. Words can't describe how well he played in the fourth quarter."
For a Columbus team looking for an offensive identity for most of Saturday night, Harris' 3-pointer changed the feel in the arena.
"I had been struggling at the free-throw line, so I was really down on myself," Harris said. "The 3-pointer changed everything. My confidence just spiked. It was an amazing feeling."
Harris scored his team's first nine points of the fourth quarter, and finished the stretch with 18 of 20 points. The barrage included a step-back jumper in the lane, a dunk, a layin in transition after a Woodard II block and four rebounds.
Harris added eight rebounds and two blocked shots to his 10-of-14 night from the field. Woodard had 12 points and 13 rebounds.
"I was expecting something big," Smith said. "Turns out this may have even be bigger."
On defense, Columbus held Meridian to 31-percent shooting, including a 3-of-14 night from 3-point range. The Falcons blocked eight shots, including five by Woodard II.
Columbus entered the coliseum allowing 41 points per game. In three state tournament games, the Falcons allowed 38, 34, and 37 points.
"It's all about a buy-in," said Columbus first-year coach Anthony Carlyle, who won his fifth gold ball. "We had some tough times early in the season. Once the kids realized how we were going to do things and we needed each other, everything turned."
For Woodard II, a Mississippi State signee and the state's Gatorade Player of the Year, the emotion was raw as he embraced Carlyle and then his mother.
"It hasn't always been easy," Woodard II said. "(Carlyle and Woodard II) bumped heads early. I'm not going to lie about that. Once we got it together, this team was special. It's one thing to think you are a state championship team. It's another thing to go out and win it and prove you are one."
After the game, Harris was named player of the game, which might have been the easiest decision anyone in the arena made all night.
"It was my last game in high school," Harris said. "Who wouldn't want to put on a show?"
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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