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Columbus kicks off district play vs. South Panola


Columbus High School’s Aaron Johnson goes up for a dunk against New Hope in a game from earlier this season.

Columbus High School’s Aaron Johnson goes up for a dunk against New Hope in a game from earlier this season. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff


Adam Minichino



The Columbus High School boys basketball team is nearly done with all of its traveling. 


Anthony Carlyle hopes the Falcons will see the fruits of all of those hours away from home tonight prior to the team's final big trip of the season. 


Coming off a second-place finish at the Arby's Christmas Classic in Bristol, Tennessee, last weekend, Columbus (10-5) will play host to South Panola in the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 6A, Region 2 opener at 7:30 tonight. The Columbus girls basketball team (11-4) will kick off the doubleheader against South Panola at 6 p.m. 


"I think we are coming along OK," Carlyle said. "We have been preaching three seasons. The preseason is the one we just finished. It included a lot of tough competition. The second is district play. Hopefully, we can kind of position ourselves as a No. 1 seed to get ready for the third season, which is the postseason." 


Carlyle said Columbus will leave after the game against South Panola for Paducah, Kentucky, where it will play The Rock out of Gainesville, Florida, at 3:15 p.m. Saturday in Mustang Madness. The tournament wraps up a slate that saw the Falcons play in events at Quitman High School, in Memphis, Tennessee, in Corinth, in Benton, Kentucky, and in Southaven. 


Columbus defeated Tabernacle Baptist (Grand Bahamas) 36-28, Dobyns-Bennett (Tenn.) 61-43, and Bearden (Tenn.) 58-55 before losing to North Mecklenburg (N.C.) 62-53 in the tournament title game. Robert Woodard II had 18 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists in the final game. Denijay Harris had 15 points, six rebounds, and three assists. Both players were named to the all-tournament team. 


"I thought we played well. I thought we saw some improvement in certain areas where guys were playing a little harder, competing, and rising to the occasion against great competition," Carlyle said. "I think the last night in the championship game we got a little fatigued. We still played well in sports during that game, but, hopefully, we can build on that going into the new year and continue to grow." 


Woodard II, who will play basketball at Mississippi State next season, leads the Falcons with 19.3 points per game and 9.5 rebounds. He also is averaging 2.5 assists per game. Harris is averaging 12.5 ppg. and 5.9 rebounds. Carlyle hopes players like senior point guard Casey Smith (7.6 ppg.), senior guard Greg King (5.3 ppg.), RJ DeLoach (4.7 ppg.), and senior swingman Aaron Johnson (5.0 ppg.) can continue to gain confidence to give the Falcons a consistent third scoring option to take the pressure off Woodard II and Harris. 


"It is still not where we want it," Carlyle said. "We had some setbacks with guys being sick and grades and that kind of thing, but everybody is back now. Hopefully in the next few weeks we will be able to get some guys more time and work them back in." 


Columbus High girls basketball coach Yvonne Hairston's team played in the Alcorn Central tournament during the break. Columbus has been off since a victories against Tishomingo County and McNairy Central (Tenn.) and a loss to White Station (Tenn.). Like the Columbus boys, Hairston feels two losses to Starkville and a loss to Murrah have prepared her players for what she expects to be a rugged run through the district. 


"We were very competitive in all of our losses, so I can't complain," Hairston said. "We are sharing the ball a little more. Berniya Hardin and Hannah White are scoring about the same, about 18-19 points a game. Our post players are stepping their games up, so we have three or four kids who can score. That is what we are going to need going down the stretch." 


Hairston said she and her assistant coaches are emphasizing the importance of a "team effort" to the Lady Falcons' success. She feels the team has made significant strides since a 48-27 loss to Starkville on Nov. 14. Columbus lost the rematch 45-40 on Dec. 9. 


Hairston also expects the team to receive a lift from Keayra Hughes, a team captain, who she expects to be at 60-70 percent as she continues to rehabilitate from injuries she suffered in a car accident. Hughes had four steals against Tishomingo County in her first game back on the court. 


Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor


Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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