By Maurice Patton
In case there’s any doubt as to whether Jenice Bailey is enjoying the start of Columbia Central’s girls basketball season – wonder no more.
“It really feels good,” said Bailey, the Lady Lions’ only senior, following Monday’s 56-43 win over Centennial in the team’s home opener.
Bailey, whose junior season was cut short by an injury to her right knee, was one of three double-digit scorers as Central ran its record to 3-0 – one win short of last year’s total – with the victory.
“All my three years on the team, there’s never been as many people on the team, as many as willing to put themselves out of their comfort zone,” she said. “We’re more willing to listen and learn. We’re just eager. You can tell there’s a ‘want’ to win. We push each other in practice, we execute our roles.”
Though the start has come against three teams that combined to go 28-49 last season, there’s no denying Central looks poised to turn the corner after going 4-21 a year ago – the program’s fifth straight campaign with fewer than 10 victories.
“They’re starting to buy into fast and aggressive defense, getting turnovers, getting transition going for our top scorers,” fourth-year Lady Lions coach Joshua Bugg said. “We had 11 scorers in our first game, we had seven (Monday). That’s a little different.
“We’ve got five people knocking down 3s. That opens up driving lanes and simplifies the offense.”
Bailey and Ryleigh Hamm teamed to score Columbia Central’s initial nine points Monday, all from behind the arc, and Karma Hunt added another in the final minute of the first quarter as the hosts led 16-5.
Josie Parks, who scored 11 of her team-high 18 points before intermission, dialed long distance in the second period to help the Lady Lions to a 31-15 halftime cushion and a Bailey three-point play to open the second half made it a 19-point game.
Centennial’s Sheraton Foster scored 10 straight points to cut the margin to 34-25 with five minutes remaining in the third quarter, but Janiyha Riley scored twice, Parks added a 3 and Saviya Morgan put in a transition layup to help restore the 16-point bulge through three. The Lady Cougars never got closer than 13 the rest of the way.
“I think we’re going to keep getting better,” Bugg said. “We’ve got some things we can build on, on both ends of the floor. (But) I’m really proud of them. It’s fun to watch them play.”
Behind Parks, Riley finished with 12 points and Bailey 10. Foster scored a game-high 22 points for Centennial (1-1).
Second-half surge saves Lions: Trailing by two points at intermission, Columbia Central’s boys got treys from Cam Johnson, Omari Franklin and Roni Bailey in the opening five minutes of the third quarter to take control of an eventual 62-44 victory over the visiting Cougars – weathering a 20-point performance by 6-5 sophomore post Lincoln Aholt in the process.
“We still haven’t stopped him,” Central coach Nick Campbell said of Aholt, who came off the bench and gave the Lions fits around the basket all night. “Carter (Szydlowski) did a good job on him. We just don’t see ‘bigs’ like that in District 8-AAA very often.
“They’re a very good team.”
Aholt scored 12 points before halftime, helping Centennial (1-1) to a 22-20 lead at the break.
“I thought they did a good job of making shots,” Cougars coach Jeremy Moore said in explaining the second-half switch. “They hit some big 3s to stretch the lead in the third quarter.”
Central led 41-34 to end the third period, and a Johnson trey followed by a Q Martin transition basket made it a 10-point game early in the fourth. Centennial, playing without senior Patrick Garrett – out because of COVID-19 contact tracing – was unable to get the deficit back to single digits the remainder of the contest.
Johnson and Bailey each scored 13 points with three 3s, and Franklin added a dozen points (three 3s) for the Lions.
“We got good guard play,” Campbell said. “I thought Jordan Davis played well. Bubba Perkins rebounded well. Roni played well.”
Next up: Columbia Central continues play with a doubleheader Tuesday at Marshall County. Centennial’s boys play twice Tuesday at home as part of the Cougar Classic – taking on LaVergne at 12 noon and Wilson Central at 5 p.m. Centennial’s girls are idle until opening District 11-AAA play Dec. 1 against visiting Page.
Columbia Central girls 56, Centennial 43
Cen 5 10 14 14 – 43
Col 16 15 14 11 – 56
Centennial (43) – Lauren Johnson 2, A.J. Lein 5, Mai Skinner 3, Callie Lacher 2, Harper Kline 5, Sheraton Foster 22, Tyra Petway 4
Columbia Central (56) – Saviya Morgan 2, Ryleigh Hamm 9, Karma Hunt 3, Janiyha Riley 12, Jalei O’Neal 2, Jenice Bailey 10, Josie Parks 18
3-pointers – Centennial 4 (Kline, Foster 3), Columbia Central 7 (Hamm 3, Hunt, Bailey, Parks 2)
Columbia Central boys 62, Centennial 44
Cen 12 10 12 10 – 44
Col 8 12 21 21 – 62
Centennial (44) – Trayvon Barbary 7, John Fox 2, Malachi Pointer 3, Luke Westmoreland 4, Lincoln Aholt 20, Devon Reed 2, J.P. Poullard 3, Mathew Busing 3
Columbia Central (62) – Cam Johnson 13, Carter Szydlowski 2, Q Martin 6, Omari Franklin 12, Bubba Perkins 7, Roni Bailey 13, Jacoby Webster 3, Hadyn Simmons 2, Jordan Davis 4
3-pointers – Centennial 4 (Barbary, Pointer, Poullard, Busing), Columbia Central 11 (Johnson 3, Franklin 3, Perkins, Bailey 3, Webster)