GAINESVILLE — Columbia head coach Steve Faulkner slammed his foot down in frustration in the second quarter.
Taurean Hill had just turned the ball over out of bounds, one of many instances where the Tigers couldn’t get their feet under them on offense.
It also didn’t help that star player Darrell Jones was suffering through a sprained ankle in addition to a fever.
Between all of that and a double-double from Vanguard’s Myron Hagins (16 points and 19 rebounds), it was all too much for Columbia to overcome in its biggest game of the season.
The Knights used a late first half run to build a nine-point lead and never looked back on their way to a 63-51 win in a District 4-6A semifinal at Gainesville High. Vanguard advances to the district championship on Friday to face Gainesville, which defeated Lake Weir 75-65 in the other semifinal, while Columbia’s season comes to an end one win short of a regional playoff berth once again.
Carlos Wilson’s 3-pointer put Columbia ahead 17-15 in the second quarter before Vanguard finished the half on a 15-2 run that included six points from Travis Tucker off the bench. A layup by Hagins put the Knights ahead 30-19 before Bobby Fulton, who tied a team-high with 14 points, hit a jumper right before the break to send the Tigers to the locker room down nine.
The Tigers could never get closer than seven points the rest of the way as the Knights won their 13th straight win.
“I told the guys at halftime that the run, in my opinion, they were getting easy looks in transition because we weren’t sprinting back and we gave up a couple of buckets on offensive rebounds,” Faulkner said. “That was the thing we’ve talked about all week. When they went on that little run, we’ve got so many young kids that all I saw was deer-in-the-headlights look.”
Jones also scored 14 points for Columbia but only two in the first half as he fought through ailments. He made three 3-pointers in the second half to try and rally the Tigers, but the Knights continually had answers on the other end, also getting 13 points apiece from Isaiah Richard and Quez Clayton to help build a lead as big as 17 in the fourth quarter.
“They did a really good job of denying (Darrell),” Faulkner said. “But he was not 100 percent handy, so it’s kind of the worst time for that stuff to happen. And in the second half, for the second time we’ve played them, they just kind of denied him with (Clayton) and made it really difficult for him to get going.”
Jones also only recorded four rebounds as Hagins out-rebounded all of the Tigers combined, with the Knights holding a 44-17 edge in the game.
It also didn’t help that big man Terry Cooper was held out for a majority of the game because he got in trouble at school earlier in the day. He didn’t enter until the final minutes with the game already in hand, and that was only because he was a senior.
With Jones under the weather and with Cooper sitting on the bench, Vanguard had its way in the paint.
“It seemed to me that all their dudes were 6-foot or bigger, and I’ve got a lot of 5’9 dudes so I think part of it was the effort of blocking out but also their size,” Faulkner said. “(Hagins) is a big guy. He’s got some big meat hooks.”
Faulkner will now head into his third season next year without Jones as he continues to try and build the program. Before taking over at Columbia, he led Williston to four straight regional finals and the 2010 Class 3A state semifinals.
“This is one of those things that the experience all the young kids gain is going to be invaluable for next year,” Faulkner said. “But when you lose a player like Darrell Jones after this year, you kind of wish you could have one more year. But it’s a learning experience for a lot of those guys.”