February 15, 2014 11:28:24 PM
Adam Minichino - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- The Columbus High School boys basketball finished Friday night like it started.
In between, though, the Falcons showed their different combinations can produce the results that matter on the scoreboard.
On a night in which seniors C.J. Scott, D.D. Walker, Charles Stacker, Brandon Porter, and Kendall Edwards were honored and received a chance to start their final regular-season home game, Columbus used a 42-point effort from its bench to earn a 65-35 victory against West Lowndes.
Jay Jay Swanigan came off the bench to score a game-high 15 points for the Falcons (19-7), who won their third-straight game to close the regular season.
Columbus coach Sammy Smith said his team -- and everyone else in the state -- can wipe away its overall and region records now that "crunch time," or the postseason, is here. With a game against Madison Central set for 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at Madison Central, Smith knows his team will have to be fully engaged if it intends to shake off the memory of two regular-season losses to the Jaguars.
"Everybody is contributing, and everybody is happy for everybody," Smith said. "Now we have to go out and win a one-game series. I think we have done well, but as far as I m concerned we are 0-0. I have to do a great job of coaching and put our guys in position to play to their strength and everybody has to play for each other."
Columbus could receive a lift from eighth-grader Robert Woodard. The 6-foot-4 forward scored eight points in his fourth game as a member of the varsity team. Woodard was one of 11 players who scored for Columbus. It had nine players score in the first meeting against West Lowndes, a 61-42 victory on Nov. 12, 2013.
Scott (10 points) was the only other Columbus player to reach double figures. That didn't matter because Porter and Robert Woodard each had eight, while Demetrice Clopton had six.
Walker, who had four points, said the Falcons have come together thanks to better communication and everyone realizing the team is best when it is the sum of its parts, not a one- or two-person show. He knows it will be a "big" challenge to go on the road Tuesday and beat Madison Central, but he likes his team's chances.
"We have played pretty good lately, but we can play better," Walker said. "It is going to take everybody communicating and playing together and everybody giving everything they have got."
Walker said Woodard's arrival has helped motivate everyone on the team to go just a little harder to earn playing time.
Porter agreed, saying it doesn't make a difference who scores all of the points as long as the Falcons play hard, especially on defense, to extend its season. He said the team has been particularly focused the past few weeks because it doesn't want Tuesday to be the final game of the season.
"We know that is do or die (Tuesday)," Porter said. "We're just trying to go out Tuesday and play our hearts out."
Smith said Woodard, who was with him in the gym when he was a fourth-grader, has earned the promotion from the middle schools team. He said the veterans on the team have welcomed Woodard in part because many of them, like Scott, who saw significant minutes at point guard as a freshman, played early in their career.
Still, Smith couldn't help but be self-depreciating when he said he "isn't a smart coach" because Woodard probably should have ben on the varsity team at the beginning of the season.
"He is a humble kid," Smith said. "He says, 'Whatever it takes, coach. I want to get better.' I want people to know that I should have saw that. I am not scared to play young kids who deserve to play. We wanted to give him a little more time with his peers to mature, and he did. Now it is his time to be rewarded.
"It is not a fly-by-night thing. This is to help us win a game. I am not worried about next year. His job is to help these seniors be successful, and that is what he is doing."
Smith feels the team has come together since a loss to Aliceville (Ala.) because they know the season could end quickly. He said the players trust him to use the players, regardless of class, in the rotations to help the team get the results it wants. That trust will be a key ingredient Tuesday playing in the final game of the day in a packed gym where everybody will be against the Falcons.
"It is the best thing we could have going for us," Smith said. "It is us against the world. I have been in games like this every year. I my 20 years as a head coach, I have probably been in 17 or 18 games like this and we have been positive in a bunch of them. I should know how to prepare my kids. It is up to them to go out there and play with all of their heart and do what they do."
Porter likes his team's chances, too, because Columbus has turned up its intensity on defense following a sluggish performance against Aliceville. Columbus showed Friday it might be ready to deliver that kind of defensive effort. After the seniors helped set the tone against West Lowndes, they returned in the final seconds to close what all of the Falcons hope isn't their last victory of the season.
Porter knows Columbus will have to take better care of the basketball if it is going to have a chance against a Madison Central team that loves to create offense from its defense.
"It is going to Columbus vs. everybody when we go down there," Porter said. "We just have to go down there focused and play hard and do what we have been doing all year and try to beat them."
In the girls game, Rokila Wallace had 13 points to lead Columbus to a 60-31 victory. Senior Porchia Brooks had 12 points, while Jasmine Johnson (10) and Bethany Jones and Kayla Rogers (eight) helped lead the way. Senior Bri Edinburgh also was honored in between games as part of a Senior Night ceremony.
The Columbus girls will take on Starkville at 4 p.m. Tuesday in the Class 6A, Region 2 tournament at Madison Central High. The winner will advance to the region title game, while the loser will go home for the season.
Columbus showed Friday how far it has come from its opening game of the season -- a 38-37 loss to West Lowndes -- by building a lead as big as 35 points in the third quarter and coasting to the victory.
The West Lowndes girls and boys earned the No. 1 seed for the Class 1A, Region 3 tournament. With West Oktibbeha and East Oktibbeha still ineligible for postseason play due to the loss of the school district's accreditation, both West Lowndes team will have a bye Tuesday and await the winner of the Noxapater-Nanih Waiya games on Friday at Noxapater High.
C.J. Smith led the West Lowndes boys with nine points, while D'Quaylon Brown and Jeremy McGee each had eight. Wendell Rieves had six points in the first quarter, but he had to leave the game in the first half after he suffered an apparent leg injury. He didn't play in the second half.
Lesley Washington had nine points to lead the West Lowndes girls.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.