Leader Blues

Thursday, February 21, 2008

SPORTS >>Nettleton sends Falcons to brink with big victory

By KELLY FENTON
Leader sports editor

The one thing North Pulaski head coach Ray Cooper could hold on to throughout this tumultuous season was that his Falcons controlled their own postseason destiny. That all changed last Friday night.

Nettleton completed a two-game sweep of the Falcons with a 68-60 win, giving the Raiders the decided advantage in the battle for the final state playoff berth from the 5A-East. Now, Nettleton, which along with North Pulaski is 7-5 in league play, controls its own postseason hopes. By winning out against Beebe and Paragould, the Raiders would eliminate the Falcons from postseason contention. But the Falcons can’t worry about what Nettleton is doing. They still have their own business to take care of, beginning with a battle with conference co-leader Wynne last night. A loss in either that game or against Paragould on Friday would also dash the Falcons’ state playoff hopes.

“I told them to finish, to keep control of what we can control,” Cooper said. “We’ve got to go out and compete and let the chips fall where they may.”

It was Wynne that set the Falcons reeling midway through this season when the Yellowjackets came into Jacksonville and edged North Pulaski. The following night, the Falcons dropped another home game, this one to Nettleton, and NP was on its way to losing four of five games.

North Pulaski led by two points at the half after attacking inside against big Nettleton post man Otto Collins. The Falcons shut out the burly Collins in the first half, and sent him to the bench with three fouls.

But Collins scored 18 points in the second half and the Falcons got away from the game plan to take it inside.

“We knew he was the only presence they had inside and the only match-up problem we had defensively,” Cooper said. “We were doubling down on him. He would turn into us and initiate contact, but they were calling the fouls on us.”

As a result, Daquan Bryant, Cliff Harrison and Carlos Donley all fouled out. Nettleton took a 43-37 lead after three periods and grew the lead to 10 in the final quarter.

Though the Falcons were able to whittle the deficit to as few as four points, Nettleton hit 17-of-19 free throws in the fourth period to hold on.

“In the second half, [Nettleton] went into a 2-3 zone and we didn’t attack it very well,” Cooper said. “We settled for jump shots instead. We went cold. It was pretty much all [NP guard Aaron Cooper] in the final period.”

Cooper led the Falcons (14-10 overall) with 21 points on four three-pointers. Cliff Harrison added eight, while Bryant, Ridge Williams and Kelvin Parker chipped in seven apiece.

Now, North Pulaski must take care of its own business and hope for some help from Beebe or Paragould.

“Beebe is very well coached,” Cooper said. “They shoot it well and they handle it well. They’re very dangerous. They can beat anybody on any given night. I’ll be pulling for them. But we have to be totally focused on Wynne.”