SPORTS >> Second half lifts Falcons
Leader sports editor
Other than a jersey mishap to begin the game and some spotty free-throw shooting throughout, North Pulaski was flawless in a 68-35 dismantling of Batesville on Tuesday night at the NPHS gym.
The Falcons, urged by head coach Ray Cooper to improve their defense after a 1-4 start to their season, limited Batesville to four second-half field goals and forced it into 22 turnovers and a 13-of-43 shooting performance.
“The first half, we didn’t play defense as well as we could have,” said Cooper, whose Falcons have now won nine of ten games to improve to 10-5 overall and 3-0 in the 5A-East. “We thought we had some breakdowns, and our intensity level was down a bit. They came out and responded in the second half. They got down and moved their feet a whole lot better and quit reaching.”
As a result, the Falcons were able to bust open a game they led only 31-24 at the half. Aaron Cooper caught fire after scoring just four points before intermission, knocking down three three pointers as NP outscored Batesville 25-7 in the third period. It didn’t end there, either, as the Falcons scored the first eight points of the final period before the Pioneers (6-8, 1-3) finally ended NP’s 33-7 run with a bucket.
In addition to stepping up their defensive intensity, the Falcons also started crashing the boards to turn a five-rebound deficit at half into a 33-28 overall advantage.
Cooper finished with 18 points, while Daquan Bryant slithered and slashed his way inside for a team-high 19 points.
“Daquan is a unique player because he has such great quickness for his size,” Cooper said. “He’s deceptive because he looks kind of chunky. But he’s really just solid. And he’s extremely quick. In a foot race, he’s the fastest guy on the team. He’s got really soft hands.
“I challenged him before the game that we needed a big game out of him.”
With a short bench – Cooper had just nine players available on Tuesday – and with Aaron Cooper getting limited opportunities in the first half, Bryant responded to his coach’s challenge, scoring off stickbacks and weaves through points.
The game began with a technical foul when NP’s Christian Knight was listed with the wrong jersey number in the scorer’s book. Batesville led 2-0 and 9-6 before Bryant scored twice and Dave White took a feed from Cooper for a fast-break bucket to put NP up for good at 12-11.
Pioneer big man Adam Showalter got two straight buckets to trim NP’s lead to 25-21 late in the first half, but Cooper scored on an 8-foot runner and Cliff Harrison scored inside to extend the lead to eight.
Cooper made all four of his three-point attempts in the second half to contribute to NP’s torrid shooting on the night. The Falcons made 27-of-51 overall and 5-of-9 threes. The only hiccup was a 9-of-18 shooting performance from the line.
Carlos Donley added eight points and six boards. Bryant led NP with nine rebounds, three assists and three steals. Kelvin Parker dished out four assists.
“One thing about us is we don’t give in to who’s scoring the points,” Cooper said of NP’s unselfish play on Tuesday. “We had some problems with that earlier, but I think once we got to 1-4, the guys decided they were going to do whatever it takes. They started changing their mindsets and everything else kind of fell into place.”
Last night, NP faced its sternest conference test yet when it traveled to Greene County Tech in a game that finished after Leader deadlines.
“I started feeling a couple of weeks ago that we were starting to come around,” Cooper said. “I’m just glad we’re playing [GCT] this week and not a couple of weeks ago.”
Batesville girls 52, North Pulaski 44
In the end, it was just too much Marci Moffott for the Lady Falcons to overcome. It wasn’t just her 22 points that did in NP on Tuesday. It was her critical buzzer-beating three pointer to close out the third period. That basket extended Batesville’s lead to 38-34, and it all but took the wind out of NP’s sails.
The Lady Pioneers went on to score the first six points of the final period to extend the lead to 10. Four points by Quanita Hale and a running bank by Naishia Ridgeway kept the Lady Falcons within eight, but Batesville hit 5 of 6 free throws to put it away.
NP scored eight consecutive points to take its biggest lead at 19-13 late in the second period. But Moffott scored six points over the final 2:25 to tie the game at intermission.
Ridgeway, who led NP with 18 points, opened the second half with three-pointer and an off-balance 12-footer on the baseline. Bianca Harper hit a spinning bank to push NP’s lead to 28-23 at the 5:20 mark of the third.
Hale added 14 points for NP, while Harper, Briana Cash and Laura Dortch each added four.