Despite playing one of their best games of the year, the Wildcats season came to an end in Camden Feb. 28 in a 69-60 loss to Velma Jackson (23-6) in the Class 3A quarterfinals.
Columbia (15-17) shot an absurd 62 percent from the field, a season high, and had more assists (15) than turnovers (13) for just the fourth time all year. But there were a few moments throughout the game that cost the Wildcats a trip to Jackson.
With Velma Jackson leading 29-27 just before halftime, Columbia turned it over, which led to a Falcons 3-pointer, and they added another bucket before heading to the locker rooms. Instead of possibly being tied 29-29 or trailing just 31-29 at the half, the Wildcats were down 35-27.
Late in the third quarter, the Wildcats trailed 41-38 and missed a wide-open layup and gave up a basket at the other end in transition.
“That’s an eight or nine-point swing,” head coach Charlie James said. “Looking back a play or two here and there could have been a different outcome. But I’m definitely really pleased with my guys’ effort. We talked about going in with a lot of energy and effort, and they answered the call on that. Velma Jackson is a good team, but I just think we missed some opportunities and could have really done something special. I couldn’t be more proud of them, though.”
Senior superstar TJ Monroe left it all out on the court in his final game donning the blue and gold. The 6-foot-2 shooting guard scored 30 points on 10-of-17 shooting (59 percent), made 5-of-12 threes and had six rebounds, three steals, two assists and two blocks.
“That’s been TJ all year. When the games matter most, the bigger the stage the bigger he plays. That was one special performance he put on up there at Velma Jackson,” James said. “I told him I couldn’t be more proud about what he’s meant to the program and the team. It’s easy to say that if we could’ve had somebody to match that intensity it could have been a different outcome, but TJ just plays at a different level than everyone else right now. Hopefully some of the younger guys will see that, take that and understand that intensity and level you have to play at in big games.”
While his Wildcats career has come to a close, Monroe’s basketball career is far from over. James said Monroe has several offers from junior college programs, including Copiah-Lincoln Community College, and he’s still deciding what he wants to do.
Freshman Jaheim Oatis and junior Kentrel Bullock were both uber efficient scoring against the Falcons as well. Oatis put up 15 points on 78 percent shooting, and Bullock added nine on 80 percent shooting while dishing four assists.
With Monroe saying farewell to the Wildcats, James said he still feels good about the direction of the program with Oatis, Bullock, Darius Stewart, Ziquae Amos and Keion Jackson leading the way.
“Obviously losing TJ is going to be big, but I feel like that group of guys will be able to do it by committee. They won’t do it as TJ did it, but by committee I really feel good about how they’ll be able to handle it,” he said. “Those guys played a lot of minutes to be young guys. I’m hoping that experience they gained as freshmen and sophomores will really care over the next couple of years as they try to take it to the next level.”
Monroe finished the season averaging 20.6 points, 7.9 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game. Oatis came along strong in Region 8-3A play and ended the year averaging 10.7 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.1 blocks. Stewart was the third leading scorer at 8.5 points, while senior Tykelvis Wright and Bullock both averaged a little more than five points.
Pictured Above: Columbia's Kentrel Bullock breaks the press of a McLaurin defender Feb. 25 in the second round. | Photo by Joshua Campbell