Columbus High School senior Denijay Harris receives the C Spire Most Valuable Player award Saturday night after scoring 26 points in a 47-37 victory against Meridian in the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 6A State championship game at Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson. Photo by: Scott Walters/Dispatch Staff Buy this photo.
March 13, 2018 11:27:47 AM
JACKSON -- Anthony Carlyle believes a state championship basketball team is built on the defensive end.
Still, the Columbus High School coach won't get in the way when a leading scorer heats up.
Senior Denijay Harris scored 26 points -- including 20 in the second half -- as Columbus beat Meridian 47-37 Saturday night to win the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 6A State championship at Mississippi Coliseum.
Harris had 26 points, eight rebounds, and two blocked shots as the Falcons won their second state title in three seasons.
For his efforts, Harris is The Dispatch's Prep Player of the Week.
"It was just an unbelievable performance," Carlyle said. "No one questions that (Robert Woodard II) has the ability to totally take over a game. To see Denijay put us on his back and carry us, that was very special."
Woodard II was chosen the Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of Mississippi last week. The Mississippi State signee is Columbus' leader in virtually every offensive statistic.
With his team trailing by a point at halftime, Woodard II -- also a vocal leader on and off the court -- told Harris this was the type of game he could take over.
"We had an advantage underneath," Woodard II said. "I told him at halftime he needed to take over the game. This was his chance to really shine and become part of history."
Harris did just that, going 10-for-14 from the field.
The game changed for good after Harris drained a 27-foot 3-pointer as the third quarter horn sounded. That basket capped seven-straight points for Harris and gave his team a 32-29 lead.
"The 3-pointer changed the game," Columbus senior point guard Casey Smith said. "That is when something special happened."
Harris scored his team's first nine points and 11 of the first 13 in the fourth quarter. By the time, the scoring spree stalled, the Columbus defense had taken enough life out of Meridian.
A handful of free throws closed out the state championship.
"We were doing a pretty good job of getting to the basket, but I wasn't hitting my free throws," Harris said. "I was down but my guys kept encouraging me. Had to rush the 3-point shot up against the horn but once it went, I felt good. I knew then we were going to win the game."
Columbus entered the state tournament allowing 41 points per game. In three tournament games, Columbus allowed 38, 34, and 37 against three of the state's best teams.
The combination of Woodard II and Harris was more than enough, as Woodard II had 12 points and 13 rebounds.
"It could be anybody on this team on any given night," Harris said. "There is no pressure on offense because we are going to play great defense and rattle the other team. After that, it's just a matter of somebody stepping up and making shots."
Carlyle knew Harris had that capability.
"He has worked extremely hard," Carlyle said. "It's easy to get lost in (Woodard II's) shadow. We needed everybody to win a state championship. Denijay played well in the paint in all three games in the state tournament. You have to have everybody at their best, and it was like he found that one extra level to go to."
Harris received a handful of minutes on the 2016 state championship team. The Falcons didn't advance to Jackson in 2017. This season, Columbus rolled to a regular-season region title and a region tournament title, and ended the run with 16-straight wins to grab the title.
"We made history," Harris said. "I will remember playing with this group of guys the rest of my life. It was a special season."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter