Duncan continues to lead undefeated CABy JOSHUA CAMPBELL,
The Columbia Academy basketball team is starting to shape up as a squad Marion County and every team in MAIS AAA should pay attention to.
The Cougars (10-0) knocked off two AAAA teams in the past week-plus and are beginning to look like a championship-level team.
It began on the road Dec. 4 at Jackson Academy, with the Cougars gaining a lead in the third quarter and slowing down the pace to come away with a 49-43 victory.
“It meant a lot for my guys. From the standpoint of them being an AAAA school and having a very good program, for us to go into their place and win it’s a big deal for us,” head coach Dale Watts said. “The guys played extremely hard. We carried the game plan out pretty good.”
Watts was particularly impressed with how the Cougars protected the ball, made free throws and got stops defensively to maintain the lead. Tate Duncan, who is beginning to challenge Columbia’s TJ Monroe as the best scorer in the county, led the Cougars with 16 points and is now up to 23.1 per game. Duncan received some back up from Ras Pace and Ethan Stringer as Pace finished with 14 points, and Stringer 12.
Then, on Friday at home, the Cougars dispatched another opponent from a higher classification, downing Parklane Academy 40-30. Columbia Academy operated with a fast pace into the third quarter, but Watts decided to once again slow the game down to keep the lead.
“We had a fairly good lead at halftime, and we came back out and stayed with our game plan from the first two quarters. But then I started to see some things happening that I felt like that could be a problem for us, so again we went back to the same thing we did to JA,” he said. “We put the ball in the right people’s hands, changed the tempo and made good adjustments.”
Watts said at the beginning of the season the Cougars would need to be an extreme team to be successful, and it’s paying off. They have been able to build leads by scoring early in transition and prevent teams from coming back by slowing down the pace and protecting the ball. The Cougars got 16 points from Duncan, seven from Pace and four from Robert Johnson in the win over Parklane.
On Saturday in Meridian, the Cougars never had to slow down the pace to protect the lead, rolling to a 75-45 win over Lamar School. Duncan led the way with a game-high 26 points, while Pace had 15 and Stringer had 13.
Watts said it has been a welcome development for the Cougars to have Stringer become another source of offense to complement Duncan and Pace.
“He did a really good job at JA and did a good job in the Lamar game Saturday,” he said. “We stayed up-tempo the whole game, which enables you to get more possessions and more scoring opportunities. He has stepped up, and he is that third option for us.”
Columbia Academy began another tough stretch of its schedule against quality opponents on Tuesday when it hosted Leake Academy, but results were unavailable at press time. The Cougars will also take on Simpson Academy Friday at home and Presbyterian Christian on the road Saturday.
Watts said he has talked to the Cougars about being ready for the uptick in competition.
“I told my kids, girls and boys, this will be a December to remember,” he said. “We have three hard games this week against Leake, Simpson and PCS. Simpson and PCS are both AAAA, and PCS has really upped their program. They went out and got a few players who are really good. We’ve got a tall order in front of us.”
Pictured Above: Columbia Academy's Tate Duncan beats a Leake Academy defender off the dribble Tuesday. | Photo by Joshua Campbell