Jones goes big on senior night
It was Senior Night for Columbia on Friday, but as usual, one senior in particular shined for the Tigers.
Forward Darrell Jones has been carrying the Tigers all season long, and he did it again Friday night, scoring 31 points and grabbing nine rebounds to lead Columbia past Baker County 59-54.
The Tigers led by as many as 15 in the game and held off a late surge by the Wildcats to send their seniors out in style in their final home game.
Columbia went from up six to down five midway through the second quarter before Jones exploded for 11 straight points. The senior converted an old-fashioned 3-point play, followed by a floater, before knocking down two straight 3-pointers to put the Tigers in front 28-22.
Jones and company never trailed again.
“We struggled a little bit in the second quarter, and he made some big buckets at the end of the quarter to give us the lead,” Columbia head coach Steve Faulkner said. “That’s what big-time players do.”
Daryl Richardson capped off a 13-0 run to end the half with a layup to give the Tigers a 30-22 lead at intermission but Jones stole the show in the first act of senior night, scoring 20 of his 31 points in the first 16 minutes.
“My mindset was to go out and get my team going fast, and the shots were just going in," Jones said. "So they kept feeding me, so I had to shoot."
The Tigers have struggled this season without Jones on the floor but actually pushed the lead to 15 late in the third quarter when the senior subbed out to get some rest on the bench. Freshman Ma’leak Miller rose to the occasion, knocking down back-to-back 3-pointers and scoring all eight of his points in the quarter to put Columbia ahead 47-32.
“He’s going to be a really good player,” Faulkner said. “For a ninth-grader, the composure he plays with, most of the time, is not common for a ninth-grader. And he made two big 3-pointers there. I’m really looking forward to coaching him for the next few years.”
Columbia (12-10) led 47-34 entering the fourth and pushed the lead back to 15 on a pull-up jumper by Taurean Hill, who finished with six points.
But Baker County (7-15) wouldn’t go away easily.
The Wildcats pounced with a 9-0 run to pull to within three points, thanks to some help from the foul line. After a jumper by Wesley Balford and a put-back by Nick Lee cut the score to 49-41, Baker County attacked the basket relentlessly and made five straight free throws in the next three possessions to cut Columbia’s lead down to three.
But despite a double-double by Cam Mobley (18 points and 10 rebounds to go along with five blocks) and 12 more points from Richard Gaskins, Baker County couldn’t stop Jones on his special night.
Jones asserted his presence when he returned to the game, driving for a layup to put Columbia ahead 51-46 before getting to foul line again and again. He made six of eight from the charity stripe down the stretch to close out the game and extend Columbia’s lead to 59-50 in the final minute.
“We had to get the lead back up because they were coming back, and I just wanted to win my last home game, so I was just working hard from the first quarter to the fourth quarter,” Jones said.
All four seniors started for Columbia —Eli Thomas, Terry Cooper, Richardson and Jones. Richardson and Thomas each scored three points, but it was Thomas who sent the Tigers’ bench into a rambunctious cheer when he nailed a corner 3-pointer in the opening minutes.
The bench was so electric that Faulkner had to keep them from falling down onto the court.
But it illustrated exactly what the head coach wanted from his team on Senior Night.
“I explained it to the guys in the locker room and some of the underclassman that tonight is about the seniors,” Faulkner said. “It’s about doing everything you can to get them a W on their potential last home game. I thought we really came together tonight.”