December 6, 2017 10:12:41 AM
Columbus High School boys basketball coach Anthony Carlyle hasn't shied away from competition this season.
A busy pre-Christmas schedule has seen Columbus play a game at Quitman High School, face nationally ranked Memphis East at the MLK Classic in Hamilton, Tennessee, take on Hazel Green (Ala.) and Madison Prep (La.) at the fifth-annual Lighthouse Thanksgiving Classic in Corinth, and play Curie (Ill.) in the Marshall County Hoopfest in Benton, Kentucky.
Columbus also rallied for a 64-62 victory against archrival Starkville on Nov. 14 in one of its few dates at home. The start to the 2017-18 campaign has left Columbus at 5-2 and prepared to play Starkville in the rematch at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Starkville. The girls teams will meet in the first game of the doubleheader at 6 p.m.
"We get a couple of days to prepare and to watch film to go over the game plan," Carlyle said. "We know it is going to be a tough game. Starkville is one of the best shooting teams in the state, if not the best, so anytime guys can make shots the way those guys can make shots, you're going to have your hands full."
Columbus is coming off a 52-46 victory against Curie (Ill.) on Saturday. Robert Woodard II led the Falcons with 22 points and nine rebounds, while Denijay Harris had 13 points and eight rebounds. RJ DeLoach had three assists, and Aaron Johnson had six rebounds.
"We led in the fourth quarter again and certain mistakes we made in games we lost, that game we made some plays that helped us win," Carlyle said. "That is what you want to see early in the year. You want to see growth. That was big to see the progress we have been trying to make."
Carlyle said the Falcons did a better job of taking care of the basketball. He said Columbus also did a better job rebounding, boxing out, and hitting its free throws. Carlyle said those areas hurt it in losses to Memphis East, which has been ranked No. 1 in national polls, and to Madison Prep. Columbus led in the fourth quarter in both games.
Carlyle said Woodard II, the state of Mississippi's reigning Gatorade Player of the Year, is off to a strong start. He said he hopes to get a few other players to emerge to take pressure off Woodard II and Harris, who have been two of the team's leading scorers. Carlyle said point guard Casey Smith, DeLoach, Johnson, and guard Greg King are more than capable of playing bigger roles on offense to strengthen the attack. Still, he wants all of the players to continue to improve on defense and to do things in other areas if they aren't scoring.
Columbus' schedule doesn't get any easier after its second game against Starkville. Columbus will play Pinson Valley (Ala.) at 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 15, in its first game of the 21st-annual Joe Horne Christmas Classic. The tournament, which also will feature the Columbus girls, the Starkville girls and boys, and Carlyle's old team, Velma Jackson, will wrap up at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 16, with a game between the Columbus boys and New Hope.
"We tried to get the best competition we could and take more quality over quantity instead of just a whole bunch of games," Carlyle said. "I think it's a solid field."
Carlyle said the tournament will take place only in the main gym. It will be Carlyle's first time leading the tournament after attending the event as Velma Jackson coach in 2014 and 2015 and as an assistant coach at Yazoo City.
Carlyle, who was hired April 10 to replace Gary Griffin as coach, said he hopes to start working on the 22nd-annual Joe Horne event earlier to bolster the field and possibly to add more games so the event can expand back to use the auxiliary gym like in previous seasons. He also hopes to use the contacts he has made this season traveling to different events and from past years as a coach to help him keep the tournament among the best in the state.
Following that event, Columbus is scheduled to take on Olive Branch on Dec. 23 before it travels to Bristol, Tennessee, to take part in the 35th-annual Arby's Classic. Columbus will play the winner of the game between Eastside High (Va.) and Tabernacle Baptist (Bahamas) at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 27. The tournament, which also features a slam dunk contest and a 3-point contest, will run through Saturday, Dec. 30.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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