By Maurice Patton
MURFREESBORO – More turnovers than field goal attempts was hardly the first half Columbia Central coach Joshua Bugg had in mind for Monday’s Region 4-AAA quarterfinal matchup with host Blackman.
But his Lady Lions only got off 14 shots – hitting two – while committing 18 miscues, falling behind by 40 points by intermission of an eventual 63-36 season-ending loss.
Vanderbilt signee Iyana Moore, who finished with a game-high 16 points, grabbed the opening tip and sailed in for a layup just six seconds into the contest, and Blackman (18-3) converted back-to-back Central turnovers into transition points for a 7-0 cushion that grew to 11-0 before Jalei O’Neal got the visitors on the scoreboard.
“We’ve got to be more mentally tough in that moment and match their aggression a little better,” said Bugg, whose undersized but athletic squad ran into a bigger and more athletic Lady Blaze team that won the District 7-AAA tournament last week and showed why Monday.
“That’s something we’re capable of doing, but we didn’t do that to start the game. That led to a lot of turnovers and easy baskets. … They’re a really good team. They’re a talented bunch. They’ve got a chance to continue strong here.”
After running out to an 18-2 lead by the end of the opening period, Blackman got three 3-pointers in less than three minutes from Tori Page, a Dartmouth signee, as the Blaze hit six shots from behind the arc in the second period for a 46-6 cushion.
“We turned the ball over a lot. We couldn’t get the shots we wanted,” said junior Janiyha Riley, who returned – along with O’Neal – after missing significant time in concussion protocol. “If we’d started the first half the way we started the second half, it would have been a different story.”
Columbia Central (18-12) did acquit itself well in the final 16 minutes, outscoring the hosts 30-17, but the damage had well been done.
“We’ve just got to take it and learn from it, grow and work in the offseason,” Riley said.
“That as a positive thing for our young kids that we’ll have coming back,” added Bugg in reference to the second-half surge.
Page scored 15 points and Kaylee Odom 12 for Blackman, which will host Riverdale – a 45-35 quarterfinal winner Monday over Tullahoma – in Tuesday’s semifinals.
Josie Parks scored 12 points to lead Central, with Riley adding eight.
Bugg was encouraged by O’Neal’s performance, as she finished with five points in the loss while battling in the post area.
“Jalei played ball,” he said after the program made its first region tourney appearance since the 2013-14 season. “She’s going to continue to get better. She’s got a really good opportunity to step in and play a lot of minutes with Jenice (Bailey) graduating. She’s physical, she’s long, she’s got an ability to score the ball.
“We’re going to do as much as we can to develop and strengthen that area of our game, our inside game. That’s an area we’ve got to pour into and develop and emphasize.”
Blackman girls 63, Columbia Central 36
C 2 4 16 14 – 36
B 18 28 9 8 – 63
Columbia Central (36) – Anaya Mulholland 4, Janiyha Riley 8, Jalei O’Neal 5, Jenice Bailey 7, Josie Parks 12
Blackman (63) – Iyana Moore 16, Tori Page 15, Kaylee Odom 12, Gracie Hamby 5, Emily Monson 2, Kaelyn Flowers 6, Jheilla Thomas 5, Tianna Chapman 2
3-pointers – Columbia Central 1 (Bailey), Blackman 5 (Moore 2, Page 3)
Photos by Vanessa Beach / SM-Tn Sports