DECATUR — West Hall’s boys basketball team can take comfort in the fact that it didn’t get star struck going up against second-ranked Columbia (29-2) in the second round of Class AAA state playoffs on Wednesday night in Decatur.
It would have been easy to get intimidated going up against the Eagles, winners of two of the past three Class AAAA state titles.
Unfortunately for the Spartans, they couldn’t find an answer for the Eagles’ inside presence in the fourth quarter. Columbia, winners of 13 straight games, went on a 16-4 run late in the third and into the fourth quarter that proved the deciding factor in its 65-45 victory.
“I was real pleased with our effort tonight,” West Hall coach Warren Sellers said. “I don’t feel like the final score was a real indicator of how close this game was.”
Sellers was right. The Spartans (24-7) trailed by only five at the end of the third quarter, in their first second-round playoff game since 1999. That’s quite an accomplishment against the Eagles, who have won all but two games this season by more than 10.
“West Hall is a very well-coached team,” Columbia coach Phil McCrary said. “I’ve known coach Sellers for a long time and any time you play one of his teams you have to be prepared for a tough game, or you’re going to lose.
“This was only the second game this season where it was a close game with us going into the fourth quarter … West Hall is a really good basketball team.”
Even though Columbia lacked some of the star power of past state championship teams at the school it did enough to qualify for the state quarterfinals with good 3-point shooting, strong inside shooting and at the free throw line in the second half.
Eagles forward Jershon Cobb proved to be the difference with a game-high 28 points including shooting 11-of-12 from the free-throw line.
Cobb hit a 3-pointer in the second quarter followed by three straight free throws on the next trip down the court as part of Columbia’s 12-3 second-quarter run. Then in the fourth, he provided back-to-back baskets to help the Eagles outscore the Spartans 28-13.
Jordan Price, a freshman, started the final period for Columbia with back-to-back baskets, including a nice finger roll giving the Eagles a 43-32 advantage.
West Hall’s coach is one that thinks Columbia is a sound pick to win the state title in its first season playing in Class AAA.
“I think in the fourth quarter their height got to us and they really started to post up on blocks,” Sellers said. “When they had the ball they started to be real patient on offense.”
West Hall’s leading scorers were Rodney Gibson with 14 points and Shunquez Stephens with 11. In a second quarter dominated by 3-pointers early, Gibson hit a 3-pointer to close Columbia’s lead to 17-15. The Eagles responded with back-to-back 3’s by Jazmon Major.
West Hall’s best chance to build a sizable lead was the first quarter, which it dominated in rebounds. The only problem was the Spartans couldn’t get any of their open shots to fall, including a string of eight straight missed shots.
“I felt like we could have had an 8- or 10-point lead after the first quarter,” Sellers said.
Darnelius Session and Major each finished the game with 10 points for the Eagles.
With the win, Columbia advances to the state quarterfinals this weekend in Dalton.
West Hall’s season is now complete.