Leader Blues

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

SPORTS>> Falcons hold on to beat Mills

Leader sportswriter

The start of conference season couldn’t have been any more dramatic for Ray Cooper and North Pulaski.

The Falcons overcame shoddy second-half defense and a bizarre technical foul call in the late stages of their 78-76 win over Mills on Friday night at the Falcons’ Nest when Jerald Blair hit a pair of game-winning free throws with six seconds remaining.

The Falcons’ lead grew as high as 18 points in the first half before Mills came charging back to set up the dramatic finish.

The controversy started with North Pulaski holding a 76-75 lead with less than 30 seconds remaining. Cooper’s attempt at calling a timeout with his team struggling against the Mills press went unanswered three times before he got more assertive.

His fourth try got the official’s attention, but it also got Cooper a technical.

“It was the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen since I’ve been coaching,” Cooper said. “I attempted three times to call timeout. I stuck my hands out in front of him, and he ignored me three times.

“And so the next time, I yelled timeout, and I asked for an explanation of why I got a tech for calling timeout, and he said it was the tone in which I called it. So I don’t know, you’ll have to get him to explain that.”

Nick Hansberry, who had just brought the Comets to within one point moments earlier, was sent to the line. He hit the front end to tie, but missed the second and Mills had the ball with 10 seconds left in a 76-76 game.

Blair stole a pass from Chris Hampton and had a breakaway before Montez Peterson fouled him with six seconds left.

Blair hit both ends, and a last second three-point attempt by Mills fell short, improving North Pulaski’s record to 10-5 overall and 1-0 in the 5A Southeast Conference.

The smaller, yet stronger Falcons worked the ball inside much of the game, led by a 17-point, 11-rebound performance from Daquan Bryant, while Blair and T.J. Green both came off the bench to contribute 16 and 12 points respectively.

Mills relied on its superior outside game to make up the bulk of its first-half deficit, as Hansberry, Peterson and Chris Hampton all hit three-pointers in the second half. Aaron Cooper was the only outside threat for the Falcons, with 12 of his team-high 18 points coming from three-point land.

“It’s conference time,” Cooper said. “It’s wild and crazy. There’s no telling what’s going to happen. I’ve got to give Mills credit. I told them at halftime that those guys were not going to quit. We’ve got to have the same kind of defensive pressure we had in the first half. For whatever reason, we laid back and gave them shots right off the bat. They hit three or four of them in a row and got right back in the ball game.”

Mills took the initial advantage in the first quarter. Hansberry’s jumper at the 3:19 mark put the Comets up 11-6, but an 11-0 run for North Pulaski, including a 25-foot shot by Cooper, followed by a basket and free throw for Bryant, helped the Falcons build a 25-15 lead by the end of the period.

The Falcons got even hotter in the second quarter, with two more shots behind the arc for Cooper and a pair of baskets by Blair. Cooper’s three-pointer at the 6:14 mark gave North Pulaski its biggest lead of the game at 37-19.

The Comets put themselves back in the game with three-pointers on four straight possessions in the first three minutes of the second half. The second straight trey for Hansberry at the 5:49 mark cut it to 54-44, and his basket and free throw with 2:38 left in the third made it a 56-52 game, setting up the fourth-quarter shootout.

“The first half was great,” Cooper said. “Even when they got the lead earlier, I wasn’t worried because I saw the way we were defending. In the second half, we just didn’t.”

Cooper said the nail-biter was a sign of things to come in the 5A-Southeast Conference race.

“This is what conference basketball is all about,” he said. “You can throw all that other stuff out. You can throw records out, because teams are going to be better prepared and play harder. I’ve got to give credit to the kids, even with all the adversity they faced. I know we had to be doubled or tripled up on the fouls like we were on the road or something.”
Mills was 18 of 28 at the line, while North Pulaski converted 13 of 19.

The Falcons won the rebounding battle 32-30, and had 19 turnovers to the Comets’ 18.

Hansberry led all scorers for Mills with 28 points, with 19 for Peterson and 12 for Hampton.

North Pulaski played at Beebe last night after Leader deadlines, and will be at Crossett on Friday.