SPORTS >> North Pulaski boys earn a shot at state title
Special to The Leader
ALMA — In the school’s 32nd year of existence, North Pulaski has earned a shot at only its second state title, and the first in one of the major sports.
That’s thanks to a spirited second quarter in which the Falcons blew open a close game en route to a 73-56 victory over Morrilton on Saturday afternoon in the semifinal round of the Class 5A state tournament in Alma.
The win pits the Falcons against 5A juggernaut Greene County Tech in the championship game at 12:45 p.m. Saturday at the Summit Arena in Hot Springs.
The school’s only other state title came in a track-and-field relay years ago, a fact not totally lost on Falcon head coach Ray Cooper.
“I didn’t know of any others, at least in basketball, but I knew for sure it was my first time being here,” he said. “So this is new to all of us, I guess.”
The big difference in the contest was shooting. North Pulaski torched the nets at a 54-percent clip, while the Devil Dogs struggled to a 33-percent night from the field.
The two teams played almost dead even in the first, third and fourth quarters, but it was a 23-8 second quarter that told the story.
The Falcons committed five turnovers in the first quarter and failed to launch a single three-point attempt.
Junior post player Daquan Bryant did most of the work in the early going, keeping the Falcons in the game with eight points inside the paint, most of which came off his three offensive rebounds.
Morrilton senior Freddie Roseburrow kept Morrilton close with half of his team’s point total in the opening period.
The second quarter started out evenly as the two teams traded three-point plays before North Pulaski broke it open. It started with back-to-back three-pointers by Falcon junior Aaron Cooper. It ended with six big points from reserve postman Carlos Donley. Morrilton had no answer for the 6-foot-7 senior, who scored all six of his second-quarter points off drives and dishes from Falcon guards.
“I was very proud of Carlos,” Cooper said. “I challenged him, really all my post players, and told them we were going to need them to step up. They really responded; Carlos, Coulson, T.J. (Greene), they all played really well.”
In between the outside-inside bookends, the Falcons scattered the points around the floor and the team. Bryant hit a mid-range jumper, junior forward Kyron Ware slashed to the basket for two and junior guard Christian Knight scored in the paint.
By the end of the half, North Pulaski’s lead was 37-20 and Morrilton faced a dilemma in the second half.
The Falcons spread the court into a four-corners offense early in the third period, and the Devil Dogs decided to press.
“We struggled with our press, but we knew if we didn’t press, they would run out the clock,” Morrilton coach Trent Tipton said.
Respect for the Devil Dogs forced Cooper to start pushing the action again.
“They’ve got playmakers, and most importantly, they’ve got a little point guard that can make things happen,” Cooper said. “I just decided that we need to keep scoring. As long as we were getting buckets and not turning it over, I thought we were alright. I was afraid if we pulled it out and tried to run out the clock, it would give their playmakers an opportunity to get back in it.”
The strategy worked perfectly. The quicker Falcons had very little trouble getting through the Morrilton press, and the Devil Dogs never could get closer than 12 the rest of the way. The lead grew to as many as 22 in the third quarter before a Morrilton run slashed it to 14 just minutes later.
Sixteen of North Pulaski’s 18 third-quarter points came in the paint, with Greene and Coulson scoring six each.
Bryant led the way for the Falcons with 16 points to go along with 12 rebounds.
Cooper scored 14 and Coulson came off the bench to add 11 for North Pulaski. Ware added nine, Donley eight and Greene and senior guard Jerald Blair scored six apiece.
Junior guard Zach Gray led the Devil Dogs with 14 points while senior post Maurice Templeton added 11.
The win lifted North Pulaski to 25-6 overall, but that means little to Cooper and the Falcons.
“I just want to go 1-0 from this point,” Cooper said. “That’s all I’m worried about.”