For one half, it was the Taaj Shamsid-Deen Show for Columbia, as the senior scored 15 of his team’s 19 points.
The problem – his Eagles only led Marist by 4.
His teammates got involved after that, leaving him with just one second-half field goal and a fourth straight trip to the state semifinals with a 50-41 home win.
When Marist completed a 9-0 run with a short Cam Wiley basket to start the second half, just three players had scored all of Columbia’s points.
Shamsid-Deen had been brilliant, but Columbia coach Kerry Sandifer knew his team probably couldn’t win if his best player had to score 40 in order to do it.
“I knew that we needed to get some other people involved,” Sandifer said. “What we told them was to play around Taaj, penetrate and make themselves available. They were kind of standing around. Once we started doing that, we were able to get some good shots.”
From that point, Columbia (26-3) went on an 11-2 run, with four different players scoring for the Eagles during that stretch. That extended their lead to 30-19 with 2:08 left in the third quarter.
Despite committing only three second-half turnovers – they had eight in the first half – Marist (23-5) simply couldn’t close the gap. The War Eagles tried pressing, trapping, double-teaming Shamsid-Deen, but Columbia’s lead never shrank to fewer than 8 after that key third-quarter Columbia run.
Shamsid-Deen finished with a more-quiet-than-usual 24 points, getting all but 2 of his 9 second-half points from the free-throw line.
Instead, it was guys like Tuesday Amberslay and Maurice Rivers and Jordan Anderson and Kyle Wallace carrying the scoring load for Columbia down the stretch.
And, on defense, the Eagles had their eyes on Quinton Stephens and Bobby Perez. In the last meeting, Perez had 20 points and Stephens had 15, and Columbia had to work hard for a two-point overtime win.
“We definitely wanted to take away Quinton; he hurt us the first time, and he scored 15 the second time, but he had to really work for it,” Sandifer said. “The guy who really got of was, of course, Perez. We wanted to make sure we were on those two guys; we didn’t want them to have any breathing room.”
It worked, limiting Stephens to 10 points on 4-of-16 shooting and 1 of 7 from 3-point range, while Perez went scoreless.
Columbia is two wins away from its fourth consecutive state title. The Eagles will play at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at Fort Valley State University.