Columbus High girls basketball coach Joe Cherrone says he thinks his team has one of the best defenses in the state. It certainly has the size.
Leaning on its interior presence and athletic perimeter defense, the Lady Blue Devils were predictably suffocating again Saturday night as they rolled to a 70-55 victory over Sandy Creek at home in the Region 5-AAAA semifinals.
The win sends Columbus (25-1) into the region final, which will be played at 6 p.m. Monday at Alexander High. It will face Fayette County, which defeated Carrollton 45-44 in the Saturday’s first semifinal game.
“Fayette’s going to be tough,” Cherrone said. “They’re well-coached, and they’ll be well prepared. This will be the third time playing them, so we know what to expect.”
So does Fayette County. It was on full display in the first half Saturday with the Fayette County girls sitting in the stands.
From the 4:40 mark in the first quarter to the 7:12 mark in the second, Columbus didn’t allow Sandy Creek to score a single point. Even then, it was only free throws. Sandy Creek’s field goal drought didn’t end until six minutes, 15 seconds left in the half. By that time, the Lady Blue Devils had jumped out in front 24-7.
During the final four minutes, 40 seconds of the first quarter, Columbus was on a 14-0 run. Led by seven points during the stretch from senior Alexia Manning, the Lady Blue Devils took complete control.
Defense, which forced numerous turnovers and contested shots, led to offense.
“We know we have one of the best half court defenses anywhere,” said Manning, who finished the game with a team-high 22 points. “And defense leads to offense.”
Columbus led by as many as 24 points before the break, but Sandy Creek sharpshooter Sydney Jarmon was able to close the gap in the final two minutes, knocking down two three-pointers and a two-pointer to cut into the big deficit. Sandy Creek closed the half on a 10-2 run, but still trailed by 17 going into the break.
Columbus extended the lead back to as many as 26 with a strong offensive outburst in the fourth quarter, but Sandy Creek scored the final 10 points of the game to make it a 70-55 final.
Cherrone said he was happy with his team’s interior game on offense.
“We went inside tonight,” he said. “We’ve probably got one of the biggest teams in the state. We went inside and continued to do that well. When we do that, we open things up for our shooters outside. We work inside out.”
The Lady Blue Devils also got 13 points from freshman Ariyah Copeland, who controlled the paint for a good portion of the game. Sandy Creek was led by Jasmine Jones’ 23 points.
A scary moment occurred late in the third quarter, when a Sandy Creek player, Taylor Borum, went hard to the court with two minutes, 15 seconds remaining in the period. She remained on the floor for more than 15 minutes with coaches and trainers gathered around. She was taken out of the gym on a stretcher, and coaches indicated after the game that it was a hip injury. In all, the game was delayed about 25 minutes.
Now, Columbus turns its attention to Fayette County, which it has already defeated twice this season. It won 44-42 at Fayette County on Jan. 10 and 47-43 at home on Feb. 3.
Manning said the team understands how difficult a third win will be.
“They’re going to be coming for us,” Manning said. “We’ve got a bull’s eye on our backs. Who wouldn’t want to beat a team that’s beaten them twice?”
Saturday at Columbus
Sandy Creek 5 18 16 16—55
Columbus 20 20 17 13—70
Sandy Creek (55)
Jasmine Jones 23, Sydney Jarmon 19, Baitey 6, Currie 5, Green 1, Flasikova 1.
Alexia Manning 22, Ariyah Copeland 13, Gunter 8, McIntosh 8, Wyatt 8, Lloyd 7, Hayes 2, Floyd 2.
Records: Sandy Creek, 12-14; Columbus, 25-1. Next: Sandy Creek, Mon. vs. Carrollton in region consolation game at Alexander; Columbus, Mon. vs. Fayette County in region championship game at Alexander.