The basketball season may not be in full swing quite yet, but the action is heating up on the hardwood throughout Marion County.
The Cougars are off to a 2-5 start so far this season, but Columbia Academy has loaded up its schedule with several top-notch programs.
To begin the year, CA lost to Hartfield Academy 62-20 and Parklane Academy 64-24 before picking up back-to-back wins against East Rankin Academy (79-31) and Laurel Christian (80-49). Since then, the Cougars have dropped three straight, falling to Christian Collegiate 42-19 on Nov. 16, Parklane 47-22 on Nov. 18 and PCS 74-31 on Saturday.
“Those teams we’re better than or equal to, we can run and press and shoot and get a lot more possessions,” head coach Dale Watts said. “When we play those teams like Parklane, Hartfield and Christian Collegiate, they have a lot of size on us and we get beat on the boards. We have a difficult time scoring against those teams.”
Meanwhile, the Lady Cougars (5-4) stayed above .500 with a 78-30 win over Parklane and a 46-42 loss to PCS.
Columbia Academy played at Centreville Academy Monday and at Simpson Academy Tuesday, but results were unavailable at press time. It will return to the court Dec. 2 at Laurel Christian.
In the Eagles’ season opener against rival West Marion, they came from behind in the fourth quarter to beat the Trojans 72-58. East Marion had a 12-point lead after the first quarter, but West Marion outscored the Eagles 34-19 over the next two quarters before East Marion dominated the Trojans 30-13 in the final frame.
“It looked like it was going to be a disappointing, embarrassing comeback, but then we made the last run,” head coach Calvin Brown said. “It was an exciting night. It was the best opening-night crowd we’ve had, and it was very similar to the Holiday Classic.”
After being blessed with superstars John Rawls, Caleb Rawls and Vashon Sims the past six years, East Marion is transitioning into a new era of basketball with new blood. The Eagles used a committee to get the job done against West Marion with five players in double figures.
Sophomore Donny Anderson led the Eagles with 16 points on 50% shooting from the field with two 3-pointers. Deuce Johnson and Caden Mingo each had 14 points, while Ladarien Haynes had 13 and Jack Johnson 10 to go along with five assists.
“Donny Anderson looked really good, and he was out of the rotation last year,” Brown said. “Caden Mingo had 14, all in the fourth quarter. He actually helped close that last run we went on, so he stood out as well being a freshman.”
Deuce Johnson appeared to severely hurt his knee late in the football season for East Marion, but Brown said he’s seen no lingering effects since the senior was cleared.
“He was physical, he was aggressive and he showed no signs of favoring that knee,” he said.
Both the Eagles and Lady Eagles began play in the Lawrence County Thanksgiving Tournament Monday, but results were unavailable at press time. Following the tournament, both squads will play at Salem Tuesday.
The Trojans, despite having size and athleticism all over the court, are still trying to find their identity during a 1-3 start to the season.
Behind 14 points from Larry Magee, 11 from Tyrek Mark and 10 from Keith Andrews, the Trojans began their season with a 53-41 home victory over Bogue Chitto.
However, West Marion followed the win with back-to-back losses to Salem (51-46) and East Marion (72-58) on the road. Against the rival Eagles, West Marion had a lead going into the fourth quarter but was outscored 30-13 in the final stanza to fall on the road. Magee led all scorers with 24 points, while Jamal Martin added 20.
At Columbia Nov. 18, the Trojans found themselves in a back-and-forth battle with the rival Wildcats but ultimately fell 53-48.
The Trojans will have two weeks off before beginning their district schedule Dec. 3 at home against St. Stanislaus.
The Lady Trojans improved to 4-2 with a 36-20 win over Columbia Nov. 18. They will be on the road Friday morning as they head to Poplarville before playing host to Picayune Saturday morning.
The beginning of the season for the Wildcats should contain one big asterisk as second-year head coach Jordan Dupuy is having to play primarily junior varsity players as the Columbia football team hunts a state title. He said last week that he is waiting for six players to rejoin the team once football season ends, but even then, he will be without his starting point guard (Josh Brown) and starting shooting guard (Jonathan Wiltz) for the remainder of the season.
Brown missed last season because of a torn ACL suffered in football, but now that he is healthy and has multiple scholarship offers on the gridiron, he is opting against continuing his hoops career. Wiltz, however, tore his ACL a few weeks ago in football and cannot play basketball this season.
With a depleted roster, Columbia has stumbled to a 1-3 start with losses to South Jones (46-13), Mendenhall (50-13) and Petal (63-33) and a victory over rival West Marion (53-48).
Meanwhile, the Lady Wildcats dropped to 0-5 Nov. 18 with a 36-20 loss to rival West Marion.
Columbia will return to the court Tuesday at home against Petal.
Editor’s Note: Detailed stories were published in the Nov. 20 edition of The Columbian-Progress on the four girls teams in Marion County, which is why the focus of this article is primarily on the boys teams.