SPORTS>>Falcons pull away in 2nd half to beat Marianna-Lee
Leader sports editor
It may have been four days after Christmas, but Aaron Cooper was still in a giving mood.
The junior North Pulaski point guard, a dead-eye, long-range shooter, showed there’s much more to his game than shooting threes on Monday afternoon in the opening round of the Heaven’s Best tournament at Little Rock Hall, dishing out 10 assists in the Falcons’ 70-52 victory over Marianna-Lee.
“That’s one thing we wanted to do was to not have to have him score because he is our point guard,” said North Pulaski head coach Ray Cooper, who is also Aaron’s father. “When we’ve got guys like T.J. (Green) and Daquan (Bryant) and Kyron (Ware) who can make plays and finish, he can trust them. Because other teams are going to lock in on him and try to take the ball out of his hands.
“If they’re going to double him and he can get 10 assists, he’s hurting them just as much as if he was scoring points. He’s got a big smile on his face. He’d rather have more assists than points.”
Cooper added eight points, but it was Bryant who was the big beneficiary of his unselfishness, taking repeated feeds from Cooper to score 19 points. Ray Cooper was also thrilled with the play of Green, the junior playmaker who is just now getting back after getting hit by a car two years ago. Green skied for 10 rebounds and scored 12 points, most on nifty drives into the paint.
“TJ is the ‘X’ factor for us,” Cooper said. “I’ve been on him for two weeks and he finally came out and did what he’s capable of doing. He can take a lot of pressure off this team. He’s the best athlete on this team. And getting him to come out every night and play with that kind of effort is what we have to have out of him.”
North Pulaski improved to 8-3 and took on Pulaski Academy in a quarterfinal match-up yesterday after Leader deadlines.
The Falcons and the Trojans traded leads throughout a sloppy and frenetic first half, when each team committed 12 turnovers.
Though the Falcons led 38-35 at intermission and scored six fewer second-half points, Cooper was much happier with the play in the final 16 minutes.
“The game was so helter-skelter in the first half,” he said. “That was partly due to the layoff. There were a lot of bobbled balls and it was ugly to watch.
“We wanted to settle down in the second half, not necessarily to slow the pace down but look to get better shots. We did a better job of that in second half.”
After handing out assists on just five of their 14 baskets in the first half, the Falcons assisted on nine of their 14 second-half buckets. Cooper had seven of his 10 assists after intermission.
Though North Pulaski raced to leads of 12-5 and 18-10, it couldn’t shake the athletic Trojans, who used four rebound baskets in the first half to trail by only three at intermission. They were within a point with 13:45 left in the game. But Bryant and Ware each scored to set off a 13-2 run and stake the Falcons to a comfortable 53-41 lead with 10:23 left.
Marianna got as close as 10, but a 14-footer by Christian Knight, a bucket inside by Bryant and two more inside by Carlos Donley extended the lead to 64-47 with 4:46 left and the Falcons cruised from there.
While the Trojans were cutting their turnovers down from 12 in the opening half to just four in the second half, they suffered from woeful shooting, making only 7 of 34 in the second half and missing all 13 of their three-point attempts. On the night, they connected only 2 of 23 from beyond the arc.
The Falcons, who also got 16 points and five rebounds from Ware, made 28 of 57 from the field and out-rebounded the Trojans by 15 in the second half to enjoy an overall 47-32 advantage. Knight and Brian Coulson each had six boards. Darius Washington came off the bench to snag three steals.