Three games into his tenure at Columbus, Luther Riley picked up a win against the team that made him a staple in Mississippi high school basketball.
After more than a week in between games, Columbus improved to 3-0 by defeating Provine, ranked No. 1 in Class 5A, 66-54 in the Orsmond Jordan Showcase at Forest Hill on Saturday.
Riley, who spent the last four years at the helm of the Alcorn State men’s basketball program, coached at Provine for 12 seasons and won four MHSAA state championships. The win has significance, but the biggest takeaway for Riley was the Falcons’ ability to shake off the early-season rust and find ways to make up for a slow start.
“We came out playing kind of sluggish for whatever reason,” Riley said. “We hadn’t played in a week and a half so maybe that’s it. I’m not concerned about who we’re playing, I’m just concerned about us getting better and better every day.”
Columbus shot 50 percent in the first eight minutes and trailed 13-8 at the end of the first quarter. Provine (3-2) relied on senior K.J. Taylor to sink two deep 3-pointers to provide the Rams with a hot start. Its defense also locked in on Columbus’ bigs and forced four turnovers in the first half.
Towards the end of the second quarter, Dandy Dozen sophomore wing Robert Woodard Jr. came alive.
With Columbus trailing by five, the 6-foot-5 combo forward was fouled and sent to the line where he hit 1 of 2 shots. He then scored on a layup to bring the Falcons within three at 23-20 on his team’s next possession.
Woodard scored four of his eight first-half points in the final 2:37 of the period. Columbus took its first lead after Woodard got his own rebound after shooting a free throw where he was fouled again under the basket. The next time he put up a foul shot, it went in and gave the Falcons their first lead of the game at 28-27.
“It was just a matter of being aggressive, attacking the glass and bringing the team up by a few points going into the half,” Woodard said.
The sophomore finished with 21 points and had a second-half performance that solidified him earning game MVP honors. The wing scored 11 points in the final two quarters, including a deep 3-pointer and a put-back dunk after grabbing an offensive rebound.
“He’s gotten more aggressive,” Riley said. “He wasn’t playing as aggressive as he could play. He came out in the second half and I said, ‘You’re an All-American. You need to show people that. People want to see what you can do.’ Certainly he came back in the second.”
The Falcons never trailed in the second half while the length of their frontcourt gave Provine its challenges. Seniors Demetrius Clopton, a 6-foot-9 center, and Jartavious Dobbs, a 6-foot-8 power forward, caused mismatches down low, but it was senior forward Chris Deloach who filled it up in the second half, scoring four of his 16 points in the final four seconds of the third quarter. Deloach scored while being fouled, missed his free throw and then grabbed an offensive rebound he turned into a quick put-back to give the Falcons a 49-37 lead.
Provine got within nine points with 2:14 to play at 59-50 after Enriques Milton made a basket while being fouled and scored at the line. Milton and Taylor led the Rams in scoring with 15 points each.
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The sophomore Dandy Dozen helped Columbus wrestle the lead back at the free-throw line in the first half and finished with 21 points.
Columbus turned the ball over four times in the first half, but still won.