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Columbus boys move within three wins of state title


Columbus High School’s Denijay Harris (13) has helped lead the Falcons back to the MHSAA Class 6A State tournament for the second time in three seasons.

Columbus High School’s Denijay Harris (13) has helped lead the Falcons back to the MHSAA Class 6A State tournament for the second time in three seasons. Photo by: Chris McDill/Special to The Dispatch


Brett Hudson



COLUMBUS -- The Columbus High School boys basketball team doesn't need to shoot well to win. 


This is no secret to those still alive in the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 6A playoffs, given the Falcons have now, after Saturday night, won eight consecutive games while holding opponents to fewer than 40 points. Now it's proven it can win while scoring that or fewer. 


In the second round, Columbus (24-6) shook off a rough shooting night with ease as it handled Clinton 40-20 to book yet another trip to Jackson for the quarterfinals and on. 


"That's what we talked about at halftime: we had some open looks that weren't going down," Columbus coach Anthony Carlyle said.  


"That's been our struggle all year, not knocking shots down consistently, so we're trying to make them understand it's OK if we don't make some as long as we're excellent defensively and we expend some extra effort to rebound offensively." 


The offensive rebounding was important -- senior forward Denijay Harris had three in the first half alone on his way to seven points -- but it was the defense that got Columbus to the quarterfinals. Carlyle let is loose almost immediately. 


Clinton looked dedicated to making Saturday's game play at a slow pace, with its zone defense on its own end and a possession offense on the other. As soon as Carlyle saw the intent, he transitioned from a more reserved halfcourt defense to one with all-out aggression. It turned a slim 11-7 margin after the first quarter into a 23-11 halftime lead. 


Harris got it started with a free throw on Columbus' first possession before a steal and driving it to the other end for a layup. The second-quarter onslaught featured even scoring: junior forward Tyrin Johnson had four points, senior forward and Mississippi State commitment Robert Woodard joined Harris in three second-quarter points and senior guard Casey Smith contributed a basket. 


"We wanted to see if we could force some turnovers and get a lead against them," Carlyle said. "We had a few more opportunities that we should've capitalized on that we didn't." 


The second quarter had the look of controlled chaos -- chaos under control of Columbus, but not at all under control for Clinton. Columbus' players love that environment. 


"We like getting fast break points, getting out in the open floor and having fun," Woodard said. "It's exactly what we need when the shots aren't falling." 


Once that defense established the lead, Carlyle was the one settling into a slow pace of play. After a 12-point second quarter, the Falcons slowed it down to six points in the final quarter, including possessing the ball for all but a few seconds of the game's final two minutes. 


"Once we got a lead, we were just trying to get out with a win; it doesn't matter how many you win by," Carlyle said. "Once we got to the fourth quarter, we were able to get patient and get out of here with a win." 


Woodard led the Falcons with 16 points; Johnson added six on top of five from RJ Deloach and four from Smith. Woodard also had 10 rebounds and three blocks. 


Doing the same the three more times required to win a state championship may require a different style. Columbus will meet Terry in the quarterfinals at 7 p.m. Saturday in Jackson's Mississippi Coliseum; it may not need more offense then, but Carlyle is confident the need will arise if it stays in Jackson long enough to play for a state championship. 


When that time comes, all Carlyle can do is hope. 


"I ask my assistant coaches all the time. I don't know what else we can do to make shots; we spend the majority of our practice time this time of year on shooting," he said. "We didn't need them as much tonight, but hopefully when we need them we'll be able to knock them down." 


Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson



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