CaledoniaHigh School's Tyrin Johnson drives the lane against Columbus. Photo by: Chris McDill/Special to The Dispatch
Caledonia High School's Tre Bohannon tries to protect the basketball from a Columbus High defender in their game Friday night.
Photo by: Chris McDill/Special to The Dispatch
Columbus High School's Tijah McCrary goes up for a shot as Caledonia High's Tre Bohannon (2) and Romeo Sanders (12) defend.
Photo by: Chris McDill/Special to The Dispatch
December 24, 2018 10:19:42 AM
Tyrin Johnson didn't need to say anything to Romeo Sanders after he picked up his fourth personal foul Friday night against Columbus High School.
Johnson, the Caledonia High point guard, said something to JeDarius Gore, who replaced him when he exited with the game still in the balance with 4 minutes, 11 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
Meanwhile, Sanders was plotting his next move. The senior guard decided defense was the best way to trigger his offense.
Sanders' decision proved to be the right one, as he made a steal and scored on a layup to kick off a stretch in which he scored 13 of his team's next 18 points to push Caledonia to a 58-48 victory at the 22nd-annual Joe Horne Christmas Classic at Columbus High.
"I realized I had to step up," said Sanders, who finished with 25 points. "I had to show leadership so my team could step up."
Columbus (4-7) hit 4 of 4 free throws to cut Caledonia's lead to 29-26 with 4:11 to play. Caledonia coach Gary Griffin was whistled for a technical foul on the play in which Johnson, a transfer from Columbus High, picked up his fourth foul.
Instead of allowing the Falcons to tap into the growing momentum, Sanders turned up the intensity. The left-hander stepped into the passing lane and anticipated a pass and then converted to help squash the Falcons' hopes. He then drained a 3-pointer. Tre Bohannon scored on the block off a pass from Sanders to give Caledonia a 36-32 lead after three quarters.
Sanders stayed hot in the fourth quarter. He scored on a drive nine seconds into the frame. Cooper McCleskey (eight points) hit three free throws before Sanders drained back-to-back treys. You could tell he was confident on each one as she stepped into the shots and stroked them.
"My confidence was sparked up," Sanders said. "I knew we were going to make a run after Cooper hit those three free throws."
Sanders said he felt the steal and layup got him going because he likes to find a spark from his defense. He said the play also energized his teammates and helped them overcome an intense atmosphere.
"I slacked at the beginning, but when I started to play defense I knew the offense was going to come in," Sanders said. "I had to be confident in myself. I am always on offense when I am playing defense."
Griffin, a longtime assistant coach to former Columbus High boys basketball coach Sammy Smith, joked at the beginning of the game that he nearly went to the wrong sideline. After finding his way to the chairs lined up to the right of the scorer's table, Griffin wasn't surprised to see Sanders take control of the game.
"Romeo is a big-time player, and he usually steps up when we need somebody to step up," said Griffin, whose team improved to 12-2. "I am proud of him because he virtually played the entire game. He stuck with it and stuck with it and got into a little groove and he got his rhythm going and he made some shots."
Columbus High first-year coach Phillip Morris, who also played for and coached with Smith, said Thursday it was going to be important for players on both teams to control their emotions in a game where all of the players knew each other. He said it would be key for players not to try to play hero ball and make five- or six-point plays on one shot.
Unfortunately, Morris felt the emotions surrounding the game affected his young team too much.
"We didn't play our type of basketball," Morris said. "Everything was just ugly tonight. We weren't rotating the ball and making passes. We couldn't really run a lot of offense because we have some guys who play a couple of different positions, so when they get out there on the court they get lost sometimes. Both of our big guys were in foul trouble the whole game."
Morris said the emotions played a role in the Falcons losing focus and allowing Sanders to break down the defense. He said Columbus knew it was important to slow Sanders down.
"We let him get off at the end," Morris said.
In the late game Saturday night, Columbus defeated New Hope 48-34.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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