Leader Blues

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

SPORTS >> Falcons avenge earlier GCT loss

Leader sportswriter

Ridge Williams had a big night rebounding for North Pulaski, but his final rebound kept the Falcons alive in the 5A-East playoff chase. NP held on for a thrilling 53-52 victory in an intense rematch with Greene County Tech on Friday night in front of a capacity crowd at the Falcons’ Nest.

The Eagles’ Russell Jetton had the winning three pointer in his sights in the final 10 seconds, but his shot from the left wing was just off, and Williams was there for the rebound — his seventh of the game.

It was a big win for a recovering Falcons team that has been plagued by illness, and redemption after the first meeting between the two teams ended in chaos, and resulted in the first league loss of the season for North Pulaski.

According to NP coach Raymond Cooper, the memory of the first game at GCT, in which both camps made accusations of bad sportsmanship afterward, wasn’t even a factor in the win.

“We never even talked about that,” Cooper said. “These guys know that you can’t bring personal stuff into a game this important. If you go in angry, you’re not going to play good basketball; we were just focused on the game.

“There was no big rah-rah speech before the game; these guys were up already,” Cooper added.

While it was Williams who secured the win, sophomore Duquan Bryant served up his own heroics during the game. Extra pressure on point guard Aaron Cooper gave Bryant multiple opportunities to have his way inside the GCT paint.

The Tech post players had struggled to contain Bryant’s moves inside. The sophomore standout cleared his way past the sizeable Eagles, and made the most of those chances to lead the Falcons with 23 points.

“Duquan is a unique player,” Cooper said. “He’s just touching the surface of how many skills he will have when he is fully developed. People don’t realize how great of a shooter he is. They think they can back off of him on the floor and let him miss, but I think he suprised some people tonight.”

The game featured seven lead changes over the final six minutes until two free throws by Bryant on back-to-back trips to the stripe put the Falcons up for the final time. Cooper followed that with a pair of foul shots to give NP a 50-47 lead, but Jetton pulled it to within one with a basket.

Kelvin Parker hit both ends of a one-and-one to give NP a 53-49 lead with 30 seconds left. Trase Davis hit a big three pointer for the Eagles to pull to within one, and an offensive foul by Parker set up Tech with one last chance to take it all, but Jetton’s miss and Williams’ rebound sealed it for the Falcons.

“I knew we had to have that last rebound,” Williams said. “We needed it, and we refused — refused to go out of here without a win. A loss for us would have meant no state tournament.”

The Eagles went up 14-11 at the end of the first quarter, and added a three pointer in the opening seconds of the second quarter for a 17-11 advantage.

NP closed the gap with an inside jumper and free throw by Bryant, followed by a steal by Cliff Harrison that led to a pair of free throws that made it 17-16 Tech with 6:16 left in the second quarter.

Greene County Tech built the lead to 27-21 at the intermission. The Falcons still trailed by six at the 5:48 mark of the third quarter until a basket by Parker also drew a foul to send him to the line. He missed the and-one, but Bryant was there for the rebound, and put it up for two more.

That cut the Eagles’ lead to 30-28, a lead they maintained until a six-point run by Bryant put North Pulaski ahead 36-32 at the 2:56 mark. Bryant then followed a Tech goal with a steal he took coast to coast to put the Falcons up 38-34 heading into the final period.

Neither team could produce points in the opening minutes of the final period, but Harrison finally found his way to the basket with an assist from Cooper at the 6:38 mark to give the Falcons a 40-34 lead.

Zach Mitchell quickly cut that lead in half for the Golden Eagles with a three-point basket and a layup, and free throw by Wes Livingston after an offensive foul by Williams gave possession back to Tech tied the game at 40-40 with 5:59 remaining.

“There was no praise for me,” Williams said of his game-clinching rebound. “That’s not what it was all about. We all praised each other for a good job and a great win. We have another big one against Nettleton next Friday, and we have to play like this all over again then.”

Bryant’s efforts earned him a double-double with 23 points and 11 rebounds, along with two steals and a block. Harrison added 11 points, six rebounds and three steals. Parker finished with eight points, including a perfect 6-for-6 at the foul line.
Joe Agee led the Falcons in assists with four.

For Tech, Livingston led with 16 points. The win improves North Pulaski to 13-8 overall and 6-4 in the 5A-East Conference, tied with Nettleton for fourth place in the East standings.

The Lady Falcons played toe to toe with Tech for 31 minutes of the girls opener, but it was the three unanswered three pointers for GCT in the opening minute that proved impossible to make up. The Lady Eagles went on to win 50-39 led by a 12-point performance from Brittany Chesser. Neisha Ridgeway led the Lady Falcons with 12 points. North Pulaski moved to 3-16 on the season.

North Pulaski hosted Beebe last night after Leader deadlines, and will play at Nettleton on Friday.