Close not good enough for Columbus


Danny P Smith



BATESVILLE -- Close was not good enough for the Columbus High School basketball teams in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A, Division 2 Tournament at South Panola on Tuesday night. 


The Columbus Falcons and Lady Falcons lost by a combined total of four points and saw their seasons come to an end. 


In the girls game, Columbus rallied from a 10-point first-half deficit only to suffer a 35-34 loss to the Tupelo Lady Golden Wave, while the Falcons actually led the top-seeded Starkville Yellow Jackets 57-56 with 1 minute and 8 seconds left in the game before losing 60-57. 


"If we had played like we did tonight all year. we''d be in a better situation than we were, but we weren''t," said Columbus boys coach Sammy Smith. "The kids played hard and fought. As a coach, I didn''t make good enough play-calling down the stretch which hurt us." 


The Falcons ended with a 17-7 record, while the Yellow Jackets advanced to Friday''s 7:30 p.m. championship game against South Panola with a 22-4 mark. 


Starkville coach Greg Carter knows there are going to be close games during the postseason and a team must know how to handle those situations. 


"If you can''t win close games, you are not going to make it long in the playoffs," Carter said. "We''ve fared OK in close games. We haven''t won them all, but we have won some of them." 


Neither team could pull away from the other as the Jackets jumped out to a 16-12 advantage after the first quarter and then Columbus took a 28-27 lead at halftime. Starkville managed to take a 44-41 lead after the third quarter on a 3-pointer by Eduardo Fumo. 


In the fourth quarter, the lead changed six times. 


After a basket by Josh Carothers put the Falcons ahead 57-56 at the 1:08 mark, Starkville''s Jeff Jernigan and Edward Townsel each made a pair of free throws in the final minute to provide the difference. 


Carothers attempted to drive into the lane and put up a shot while trying to draw a foul, but he didn''t make the shot or get a call. 


"As far as the game plan, you''ve got to make plays and we didn''t make plays when it counted," Smith said. "Coach Carter did a good job and two kids that made big plays hurt us. As a coach, you''ve got to put your kids in a position to make those kind of plays." 


Jernigan led the Jackets with 19 points, while Fumo also scored in double figures with 11 points. 


"Eduardo has been playing pretty good for us," Carter said. "He''s been steady and consistent. I''m proud of the way he is playing and he''s helped us out a lot." 


For the Falcons, Benaiah Stevenson led the way with 12 points, while Tyson Cunningham and Michael Hall chipped in 11 points each. 


In a single-elimination event where a loss in the first round means the season is over, that realization can hit hard. 


"If you stay in it long enough, you are going to have some ups and downs," Smith said. "The downs don''t get any better. It makes no difference how you add them up. Hopefully we can fight back and get better next year." 


n Tupelo 35, Columbus 34 (G): Columbus coach Yvonne Hairston knew her Lady Falcons were not going to quit despite falling behind 31-21 to the Lady Golden Wave with 2 minutes remaining in the third quarter. 


"We knew coming in it was going to be a good ballgame and would come down to who wanted it," Hairston said. "It''s too bad we had to have a loser, but that''s all part of it. They played well and I knew it was going to be this type of ballgame. I thought the teams were evenly matched and Tupelo was just better." 


Columbus (12-10) closed the gap to 31-23 by the end of the third quarter, then continued to shave the margin in the fourth. 


The Lady Falcons only surrendered four points defensively in the final quarter, while Nashedra Berry had a pair of baskets, Natalie Tate had a bucket and Chy Cunningham added two baskets. 


It was Cunningham''s 3-pointer with 3.8 seconds left that cut Tupelo''s lead to 35-34 and gave Columbus a chance at the win. 


After Tupelo (24-4) missed a free throw with 2.4 seconds remaining, Tate got her hands on the basketball again, but could not get a shot off beyond halfcourt as time expired. 


Tate scored 14 points and was the only double-digit scorer for either team. Amber Jackson and Treneisha Trice had nine points each for the Lady Wave. 


n Starkville 70, South Panola 58 (G): It was the Starkville Lady Jackets who pulled off the biggest surprise of the first round by upsetting the Lady Tigers on their home floor. 


"No one thought we could move on, but we went out and did what we had to do," Starkville forward Shay Bonner said. 


Bonner was the game''s high scorer with 16 points. 


The Lady Jackets (16-9) recovered from a 31-19 deficit in the second quarter to end South Panola''s season (18-3). 


Starkville cut the margin to 35-34 by halftime, held a 50-49 lead after three quarters and outscored its host 20-9 in the fourth quarter. 


The Lady Jackets, who also had Keirra Jones with 15 points and Kala Williams with 13 points, will play Tupelo at 6 p.m. Friday for the division championship. 


"They were bound and determined to come out and play with an all out effort because they knew we were either going to be preparing to play Friday or putting the uniforms up for good," Starkville coach Kristie Williams said. "They came out with a lot of energy from the jump and I was pleased with the overall team effort." 




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