Perhaps no other school in Georgia can claim to be the epicenter of basketball like Columbia.
Since 2006, Columbia has won a combined eight state championships, including three of the last four for both the boys (2010, 2011 and 2012) and girls (2010, 2012 and 2013). The boys entered the Region 6-AAAA tournament ranked No. 1 in the state, while the girls were No. 6.
Both looked to grab their respective region tournament championships at home on Wednesday night. The boys struggled but brought home the goods against a scrappy Marist team, while the Eagle girls failed to defeat this season’s beast, Redan, for the third time.
Columbia’s boys (23-4) did not shoot particularly well and looked out of sync on offense, lacked intensity at times on defense, and shot just 40 percent from the free throw line down the stretch, but still had just enough to hold off Marist, 46-42.
It was Columbia’s third win over the War Eagles (15-13) this season. Despite Marist’s mediocre record, all three games were competitive. Marist led 27-21 midway through the third quarter before the Eagles went on a 13-4 run to take a 34-31 lead into the fourth quarter. Maurice Rivers scored 6 of his game-high 17 points during the spurt.
But Marist would not go quietly and Columbia kept the game close by missing key free throws. After a bucket by Ross Cooper, who led the War Eagles with 14 points, Marist trailed just 44-42 with :13 seconds left. But Columbia got a stop on the defensive end and Nick Singleton made good on two free throws to finally put the game away.
Eagle head coach Kerry Sandifer said playing Marist will go a long way toward preparing his team for the state tournament that begins this weekend.
“Marist does a great job of playing to their tempo,” said Sandifer, now in his second season at the helm. “They are well coached, they play hard and they don’t beat themselves. They slowed us down, but we like to think that we can play [fast or slow], and so playing a team that plays like Marist is good for us heading into the state tournament.”
In the boys’ consolation game, Grady (17-11) overcame a 10-point half time deficit to defeat Stone Mountain, 53-50.
Though it was the fourth game in five days for the Pirates (19-12), due to rescheduling caused by the winter storm, they held a 36-26 lead after two quarters. But Grady started the second half on a 13-2 run to take a 39-38 lead with two minutes to go in the third quarter. Stone Mountain reclaimed the lead, 41-39, after a bucket by Damani Walker and a free throw by Javier Canty, but a basket by Grady’s Tyrius Walker knotted the score at 41-41 going into the fourth quarter.
The teams went back and forth in the final period, as the lead changed hands six times before Darriun Shelton knocked down two free throws with a little over two minutes remaining in regulation to give Grady a 51-50 lead. Stone Mountain could have reclaimed the lead late, but the Pirates missed three consecutive free throws, including two with: 14 seconds left. Walker then iced the win for Grady with two free throws with :07 seconds left.