January 30, 2018 11:13:13 PM
Scott Walters - [email protected]
Columbus High School senior Denijay Harris felt like he owed his teammates a strong performance.
While the other Falcons were most likely not looking to collect, they still had to be happy after Harris scored 20 points in a 59-35 win over Tupelo in Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 6A, Region 2 play Tuesday night.
"I really hadn't had a good offensive game lately," Harris said. "This team is great. I want to be out there doing my part. Hitting some shots early in this game helped me a lot. It felt good to have this kind of night."
Columbus (17-6, 4-1) enters its final three games of the regular season playing its best basketball. The Falcons will gladly take more strong offensive nights from Harris. However, they believe the path to a championship is paved with defense.
"Our goal is to have one quarter where we allow single digits to the other team," Columbus coach Anthony Carlyle said. "If we have one quarter like that, we have reached our goal. If we have one quarter like that in the first half, we try for another in the second half. If we have two quarters like that, we are going to be hard-pressed to be beaten."
Columbus throttled Tupelo 48-34 in a region game last Tuesday at Tupelo. It was more of the same Tuesday night with a stronger all-around game on the offensive end of the floor.
Harris had 10 rebounds to go with his 20 points. Robert Woodard II had 15 points with seven rebounds, three steals and three blocked shots.
Harris hit his first three shots from the field as Columbus quickly built a 9-2 lead. The Falcons were not threatened from there, leading 18-8 after one quarter.
Columbus led 28-19 at halftime.
"Hitting those first couple of shots really lifted my confidence," Harris said. "It was huge to see those go down. We are having fun as a team and sharing the basketball. Different players are having the hot hand on different nights. However, you want to be doing your part."
Harris again had the hot hand in a 10-2 run in the third quarter. Casey Smith also scored a pair of baskets as the Falcons built a 43-27 lead.
Woodard came through with a pair of highlight-reel dunks in the fourth quarter, while his team allowed five points.
"Our conditioning is great," Carlyle said. "We are playing a lot of people and we are just wearing down teams in the second half. When it is working, our defensive pressure can be a little unnerving. It's just a matter of consistency. We need to continue to play well."
Tupelo (15-8, 1-4) received nine points from Tahj Crump.
Columbus maintains a slim lead over Oxford in the region race. This means Friday's game at South Panola can not clinch the top seed in the region. Instead, the top spot will be decided Monday in the final region game at Oxford.
"This team is a lot different from where we were to start the season," Harris said. "We just had to put some things together. I really like how it has come together."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.