Boys Junior Varsity Basketball, Boys Varsity Basketball · Parker 50, Columbia 40: Reigning Class 5A champs thwart Eagles’ upset bid in Northwest Regional semis

Columbia‘s late surge wasn’t enough to dethrone the defending state champions.

The Eagles pulled within one with 2:28 left, but followed with a cold stretch as Parker prevailed 50-40 today in the Class 5A Northwest Regional semifinals at Wallace State-Hanceville.

No. 8 Parker (22-7) led 33-22 midway through the fourth quarter when Columbia’s Travion Hardin drilled three treys to start the Eagles’ rally. No. 9 Columbia (19-13) closed to within one, 41-40, on Ashton Settlers‘ free throw, but the Eagles didn’t find the bottom of the net again.

“Columbia has been playing hard all year,” Parker coach Reginald McGary said. “I had to tell my guys to stay in there and fight, and hopefully at the end we’ll have a chance to win it. And we did.”

Columbia (21-12) hit just 1 of 5 free throws down the stretch, and finished 9 of 23 at the line for the game.

“Free throws have been our nemesis all year,” first-year Columbia coach Cedric Blanding said. “We started shooting them better the last six or seven games. But you’re not going to beat anyone shooting 39 percent from the free-throw line and they shoot over 65 percent. When you look at the stat sheet, that’s the difference in the game. I don’t care what I write on the board. Free throws are something they have to do on their own, and we didn’t do a good job of that tonight.”

Eugene Minter added 11 points for Parker. Braeden Stewart netted 10 points for Columbia.

— Star of the game: Parker’s JaMichael King scored a game-high 17 points, 12 of which came in the second half.

— By The Numbers: 20 — Number of free throws that Parker hit in 33 attempts; 88 — Columbia’s shooting percentage (7 of 8) in the first quarter as the Eagles’ raced to a 14-4 lead. They managed just a combined eight points over the second and third quarters; 4- Points scored by Hardin before his late outburst. He finished with a team-high 13 points and six boards.

— Quotable: “A lot of people slept on us because we lost 12 seniors.” – King.

“We didn’t fight for 32 minutes; we fought for the last eight minutes. When you fight so hard at the end, it’s kind of hard to maintain that momentum; we just ran out of gas. But again, it goes back to free throws; If we make some of our free throws, it’s a whole different ballgame.” — Blanding

“We had a good season. It just felt bad to lose at the end after all the hard we did.” — Hardin