Leader Blues

Friday, November 28, 2008

SPORTS>>Falcons opt for deliberate style in victory

Leader sportswriter

With North Pulaski outsized at every position on the court, the Falcons turned to a slow-down game and good shot selection to get past Jacksonville, 49-43, on Tuesday night at the Devils’ Den.

The game featured some of the furious full-court action that has come to be a trademark of the cross-town rivalry, but mostly the 4-0 Falcons tried to be deliberate to overcome the Red Devils’ advantages.

“We’re not going to win the rebounding battle,” said North Pulaski head coach Raymond Cooper. “Their guys are big, they’re strong and they’re aggressive. We knew we had to be really patient. In the first half, we were settling for a lot of jump shots, and we were settling for a lot of forced shots.

“Even when we got inside on them, we were forcing it. We just told them to keep working the basketball. Get something good, and then make it.”

The Falcons did, in fact, win the rebounding battle in the second half when they grabbed 19 caroms to Jacksonville’s 10, though the Red Devils won the first-half battle of the boards 17-9.

North Pulaski gave up as much as four inches of height in some matchups, and a full 16 inches in the matchup between 6-4 Jacksonville guard DeShone McClure and 5-foot North Pulaski guard Joe Agee.

The Falcons took only five shots in the first 5:48 of the fourth quarter, but made all of them to turn a 36-35 deficit at the start of the final period into a 45-38 lead at the 3:43 mark.

Junior guard Aaron Cooper gave the Falcons the second-half momentum after he scored eight of his game-high 18 points from the 3:43 mark of the third quarter to the final minute of the game, when he hit both ends of a one-and-one for a 49-41 Falcon lead.

Cooper also led in assists with four, and came away with seven rebounds. Six of those were in the second half.

“He’s been starting since he was a freshman,” coach Cooper said. “This is his third year over here. He’s been in this kind of battle before. You know, they blocked his shots a couple of times, and he’s just not going to rattle. He did a good job tonight.

We talked to him about staying out of foul trouble and watching the turnovers. He had a couple there late, but that’s going to happen as many times as he handled the ball.”

Despite his team-high 17 points, McClure, Jacksonville’s scoring ace, struggled from the floor. He went 0 for 4 from three-point range in the fourth quarter, and the smaller Falcons stormed the paint for defensive rebounds to keep Jacksonville post players Antonio Roy and Antwon Lockhart out of the mix late.

The uptempo play of the first quarter allowed the Red Devils to rush to a 17-14 lead before North Pulaski began to spread the floor in the second period.

The first-half battle ended in a 26-26 dead heat. North Pulaski’s T.J. Green came off the bench in the second half to set the tone in a big way with a three-point basket at the start of the third quarter to give the Falcons a 29-28 lead.

Green saw plenty of court time on Tuesday with all-conference junior forward DaQuan Bryant in and out of the game due to early foul trouble. Even with limited play, Bryant finished with eight points, with four points from Jerald Blair and Bryan Colson.

After North Pulaski jumped out to an early lead, the Red Devils finished the first quarter on a 9-2 run. It turned out to be the best period for Jacksonville, shooting-wise, with LaQuentin Miles, Darius Morant and even big man Lockhart hitting three-point shots. Morant set up Demetris Harris’ only score of the night with a steal and assist that ended with the football senior jamming it through just before the buzzer.

For Jacksonville, Lockhart added six points and six rebounds, Antonio Roy had seven points and four rebounds and Miles had six points and five assists. The Red Devils are now 1-1.

Keeping focus in the face of a raucous capacity crowd and an opposing team full of familiar AAU buddies was the key to the game, Cooper said.

“We know each other so well,” he said. “There’s nothing we’re going to do to surprise each other. It was just going to boil down to who made a few plays down the stretch. And tonight, our guys stepped up and hit a few big buckets.”