Leader Blues

Monday, December 17, 2007

SPORTS >>NP prevails over JHS

By RAY BENTON
Leader sports editor

Jacksonville and North Pulaski got back to playing the way they usually do, down to the wire. After beating the Red Devils earlier in the year by jumping out to a big lead and holding on, North Pulaski had to continually climb out of holes, but ultimately prevailed again, beating their crosstown hosts 53-50 at the Devils Den.

North Pulaski coach Raymond Cooper was glad to see his team face some adversity in a hostile environment and prevail.

“We talked all week long about how Jacksonville was going to come out on fire and ready to play,” Cooper said. “The way they came out and jumped ahead on us didn’t surprise me. I just told the guys to not get rattled and keep executing. We didn’t start hurrying or settling for bad shots. We kept our composure and got back in it.”

An unlikely hero emerged late in the fourth quarter. North Pulaski held a 48-47 lead and was trying to hold the ball. It did so for 49 seconds, but ultimately threw it away without getting a shot. That gave Jacksonville the ball back, but defensive specialist Jerald Blair stepped up and into the lane of a Terrell Eskridge pass and raced the length of the court for a layup that gave the Falcons a 50-47 lead with 48 seconds remaining.

Jacksonville’s LaQuentin Miles missed a three and Aaron Cooper got the rebound and was fouled with 23 seconds left.

Jacksonville only had four team fouls and it took another six seconds to get the two more needed to send NP to the line.

When it did, Cooper hit both ends of a one-and-one, but Jacksonville sophomore DeShone McClure hit a three with 10 seconds to go.

The Red Devils fouled sophomore Kyron Ware, who hit the first but missed the second. That gave Jacksonville life, but McClure’s 24-footer at the buzzer rimmed out as NP charged the floor at the buzzer.

“Blair is a great athlete who got off to a slow start for us,” NP coach Raymond Cooper said. “I keep telling these kids, the way to get playing time on this team is to be a great defender. He has stepped up for us in that area.”

The crowd was hopping, but there was little offense to cheer about in the early going. The two teams came out with the intensity level set to high, and it manifested itself in defense. A defensive struggle ensued for the first couple of minutes, but Jacksonville got hot first. The Red Devils went on a 7-0 run to take a 9-2 lead, but North Pulaski answered the run to get it back to two points.

The Red Devils went into the second period with a 13-8 lead and extended it to as much as 11 in that frame. As soon as the lead grew to 11 at 25-14, North Pulaski turned it up about five notches defensively and clawed its way back into a tie by halftime.

A free throw by Bryant made it a 10-point affair. Back-to-back Falcon three pointers by Kyron Ware and Cooper made it 25-21.

The two teams traded charges and missed free throws over the next four possessions, and North Pulaski sophomore DaQuan Bryant made it a two-point game with a driving layup with 2:06 left in the half.

Terrell Eskridge answered with Jacksonville’s only bucket of the final four minutes, and North Pulaski scored the final four points to send it to halftime knotted at 27-27. Crashing the offensive boards got NP within two. Ware missed a runner from the baseline, but Bryant got the rebound and found Donley standing under the goal all alone. That made it 27-25.

Cooper tied it up with a steal and a running no-look pass to Cliff Harrison for a bucket on a 3-on-1 fast break with 16 seconds left. North Pulaski got another steal, this time by Kelvin Parker, but his transition layup attempt was disrupted by LaQuentin Miles as the half ended.

North Pulaski capped its 15-2 run a minute into the third quarter when a Bryant putback of his own miss gave the Falcons their first lead of the game. It didn’t last long. Jacksonville came back and stayed on the positive side of a two-point margin most of the third, but NP evened it up before the end of the frame when Parker dished to Donley to make it 41-41.

The rivals were still tied at the end of the third quarter, and the beginning of the fourth saw Jacksonville take the momentum.

After committing no turnovers in the third, North Pulaski started the fourth quarter with three in a row. Jacksonville made them pay by turning a 41-41 tie into a 45-41 lead on four points by Cortrell Eskridge.

Jacksonville’s Antwon Lockhart led all scorers with 13 points, while McClure added 12 for the Red Devils.

Bryant led North Pulaski with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Harrison and Ware each scored nine for the Falcons, who improved to 5-4 on the season.

Jacksonville fell to 2-7.