DJ Jackson was in a hurry.
Five seconds before the end of the first quarter of Thursday’s MHSAA Class 5A, Region 2 tournament finals, the Senior Point Guard of Columbus High School waited to visit New Hope from the forecourt. The moment the Trojans turned the basketball over – barely two seconds later – Jackson lifted the ground. She caught a short pass on the right flank behind the 3-point line and shot quickly when the buzzer sounded.
The ball shot through the net, extending the Falken’s five-point lead to eight at a crucial moment. New Hope never came back to six points in a 48:31 Columbus win to secure the district title.
“That lifted us up,” said Columbus trainer Yvonne Hairston. “We needed that. … That was a really big basket from DJ.”
Jackson’s rush to fend off the decisive shot gave the Falcons the much-needed break. Thursday’s game was Columbus’ fifth in the last eight days after returning from the team’s second COVID-19 quarantine of the season. The Falcons played in a row against Grenada, New Hope and West Point last Thursday through Saturday before beating the Green Wave in Tuesday’s semi-finals and beating New Hope on Thursday evening.
“You were tired,” said Hairston. “But we did it, that’s all that matters: that we did it.”
Columbus now has more than a week off. The Falcons said goodbye to the Class 5A playoffs in the first round when they won the Region 2-5A number 1, and they will host a second round game on February 19th.
Hairston said her team will play the 1-5A championship game between Lafayette and Saltillo at Lake Cormorant on Friday to track down a potential opponent. The loser of the competition between the Commodores and Tigers will face Callaway in the first round on Monday. The winner of this competition will take on the Falcons four days later.
“We’re excited about a break,” said Hairston. “We need rest.”
New Hope will host either Cleveland Central or Canton in their own first-round competition on Monday. Trojan coach Nick Christy said his team couldn’t be “one-dimensional” as it has been this season.
“We’ve had some games where we scored a lot. We’ve had some games where we played really well defensively,” said Christy. “We have to be able to put both things together when we get to the playoffs.”
Columbus was able to do well on Thursday and combined goal strips and long stretches with excellent defensive performances. Jackson said the Hawks learned the best way to defend the Trojans in New Hope’s 33:22 win last Friday: enter shooters Anna Prince and Reed McGlothin.
“We were just always aggressive and knew what they were going to do at all times,” said Jackson.
Jackson said she was devastated when the Trojans outstripped the Hawks by one point in last year’s Grenada district title game, and on Thursday she helped Columbus get revenge.
“They took it away from us last year,” said Jackson. “It just felt great to get it back and get the win.”
Although the Falcons had hit number 2 with last year’s defeat, they made it to the MHSAA Class 5A championship. Jackson has similar hopes for this season: another state title and a matching MVP trophy.
“I want to finish strong in my senior year,” she said. “I want to finish holding that golden ball over my head.”
New Hope Boys 62, Columbus 48
For the last few seconds, LJ Hackman thought he might as well try, just another dunk for good measure.
With no Columbus players in sight – Ethan Conner was the only falcon this side of the half-court line – Hackman went straight to the edge and threw a one-handed jam.
While New Hope didn’t need any more points on the scoreboard, Hackman’s Slam offered a kind of exclamation point when the Trojans (19: 2) repeated themselves as district champions on Thursday with a 62:48 win over the Falcons (10: 8).
“It’s a great achievement for these guys, all of the hard work they’ve done,” said New Hope coach Drew McBrayer. “Now you have to focus on the playoffs.”
The Trojans ended with an 8-0 district record, earned a goodbye in the first round in the class 5A playoffs and have a home game in the second round on February 20. You play the winner of the Tuesday game between Provine and the loser of the 1-5A championship game between Center Hill and Lake Cormorant on Friday.
Columbus will host either Neshoba Central or Canton on Tuesday. For the third time in three games this season, the Falcons hooked up with the Trojans but watched New Hope eventually pull out.
Columbus even took an early 10-2 lead before McBrayer took a break in the middle of the first quarter and rallied the troops.
“We’re fine,” he said to his players. “We’ve been in this situation before. Just keep playing and we’ll take care of it.”
New Hope immediately closed the gap. By the end of the quarter, the Trojans had published an 8-0 run to tie the Falcons at 10:10.
Eric Caldwell, senior at New Hope, said his team routinely practice pulling back in the second and fourth quarters of games knowing that opponents cannot run the Trojans for 32 minutes.
“We train and train so we can take out the teams in the end when they get tired of running up and down the floor,” said Caldwell.
This strategy worked well as New Hope carried its momentum in half in the first quarter and finished the second quarter strong. Hackman ended the period with a steal, a dunk and a chest butt with teammate Jorden Edwards as the Trojans led 25:19 during the break.
The New Hope shots finally rang out in the third quarter. The Trojans dropped out of a 13-0 run to expand their lead to 20 points and Columbus never got within 10 points trying to make a late comeback.
New Hope won its fourth county championship in five years when Caldwell, who moved from Columbus after last season, celebrated on his former home ground.
“I really felt like I was proving a point and I felt like I made it,” he said.
Caldwell said New Hope has a large poster of its current record – now 19: 2 – in its locker room, which the Trojans find a sense of achievement every time they see it.
However, McBrayer emphasized that New Hope is not finished yet.
“It’s only one goal along the way,” said the coach.
MHSAA Class 6A, Region 3 Tournament – in Germantown
Germantown Girls 58, Starkville 46
The Starkville High School girls lost the Class 6A, Region 3 finals Thursday to host Germantown High School in Madison 58-46.
A playoff game of the first round will take place on Monday in the yellow jackets.
MHSAA Class 3A, Region 4 Tournament – in Hatley
Noxubee County Girl 65, Hatley 47
The Noxubee County girls won 65-47 in the 4-3A region semi-finals against hosts Hatley High School on Thursday.
Na’Kaiyla “Tootie” Lockett had 18 points, eight rebounds, five steals and one block to lead the Tigers. Jakeia Walker had 12 points, five steals and two rebounds and Aaliyah Brandy had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Shadiamin Wilkerson added eight points for Noxubee County. Jamiya Dancy had six points and Zacaree Rupert had five.
The Tigers will face Houston in the Girls’ Championship on Friday at 6 p.m.
Noxubee County Boys 58, Aberdeen 50, OT
The Tigers’ Boys team beat Aberdeen 58-50 in the 4-3A semi-finals on Thursday.
Noxubee County will face Houston in the boys championship game on Friday at 8 p.m.