Leader Blues

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

SPORTS >> Falcon freeze-out

Leader sportswriter

HOT SPRINGS – North Pulaski couldn’t have picked a bigger game to go ice cold.

Greene County Tech overcame its own sloppy offensive performance to claim a 39-34 win over the Falcons in the Class 5A championship game on Saturday at Summit Arena. It was their second state crown in three years.

North Pulaski (25-7) suffered through a dismal 19-percent shooting performance, converting only 11 of 57 shots.

Junior forward Kyron Ware was one of few bright spots for the Falcons, leading the way with 19 points on 7 of 13 shooting. Pretty much everything else went wrong, from Daquan Bryant picking up his third foul a minute into the second quarter to North Pulaski sharp-shooter Aaron Cooper’s 0-of-17 nightmare from the floor.

“He’s made so many big shots for us,” said NP coach Ray Cooper of his son and Falcon point guard. “He’s hit in these close games all year, probably seven or eight times. There’s nobody else I would rather have to take those shots.

“He hurt his back yesterday, and I don’t know if that had anything to do with it. He never made any excuses about it. He came and got treatment and went out and played the best that he could. We got the shots from the guys we wanted to shoot. For whatever reason, they just didn’t fall the way they normally do.”

Despite the almost unbelievable offensive futility, the Falcons still had a chance down the stretch when Ware led a Falcon run that cut a 24-13 lead at the 3:47 mark to 24-23 with 12 seconds left in the third. Bryant kept North Pulaski close at the start of the fourth quarter, but poor shooting reared its ugly head once again down the stretch. The Eagles (26-6) took advantage by packing the lane and forcing North Pulaski to take the same outside looks that had proved so unproductive to that point. The Falcons missed all five of their three-point attempts in the final period to finish 3 of 19 overall.

“I think that if you talk to coach Cooper, he’s going to tell you the same thing,” said GCT coach Scott Bowlin. “Neither one of us looked very good offensively. I thought both teams played pretty good defense. We were jittery, especially in the first half.”

The Eagles finished 13 of 30 from the floor and 11 of 23 at the foul line.

Ware’s numbers were in stark contrast to his North Pulaski teammates’. He was 7 of 13 from the floor and 3 of 6 on three-point attempts. Bryant finished 4 of 13. The rest of the team went 0 for 31.

It wasn’t just from the field that North Pulaski struggled, but from the free-throw line as well. The Falcons, who normally shoot around 70 percent at the stripe, went 9 of 19.

“It’s frustrating, but I knew the kids were fighting,” said Cooper. “I don’t know if we were over-hyped. I don’t know what it was, because normally, we’re a pretty good free-throw shooting team.”

Ware scored 10 points in the third quarter when the Falcons began to make their move. His two made free throws at the 5:40 mark cut the Eagles’ lead to 18-13, but GCT answered with a 6-0 run that pushed its advantage to 24-13. Ware went back to work with a trey at the 3:16 mark, followed by a putback from Bryant.

Ware added a three from the left corner, then ended his run with a turnaround in the lane to make it a one-point game. Trase Davis scored for GCT just before the period ended to give the Eagles a 26-23 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

Back-to-back jumpers from Bryant narrowed the deficit to 29-27 with 3:56 left to play, but the turning point came when Livingston went to the line for a two-shot foul 17 seconds later. He made the first and missed the second. But Chase Halbrook slipped in for the rebound and putback to push the lead to 32-27.

Davis added a pair of free throws with 2:34 left, but Bryant’s spin and scoop whittled the deficit to 34-29 at the 2:15 mark. Caleb Hartwig hit a floater and the Falcons missed a pair of threes. Their last gasp came on Bryant’s rebound basket with 32 seconds left that cut the lead to 36-31. But Livingston, who was named the MVP, hit 3 of 4 free throws down the stretch to seal it.

“I thought Kyron did a great job of stepping up when we needed him to,” Cooper said. He really gave us a spark and kept us in the game when nobody else could make a shot.”

GCT denied the Falcons any open lanes all game. The Eagles played aggressively on defense, perhaps a bit too aggressively for Cooper, as he noted in his post-game press conference.

“We were getting to the lane, and they were running under our legs,” said Cooper. “It was something we saw on tape. I watched two years of tape back and forth, and it was something that we tried to get prepared for, but it’s hard to be prepared for a guy that’s underneath when you’re trying to shoot a basketball. We talked to the officials about it, and got no response.”

Bryant added 10 points, 15 rebounds and four steals in just 20 minutes of play.

“I just want to thank these guys,” said Falcons coach Ray Cooper. “Especially Jerald (Blair) and all the seniors, and thank them for the hard work they’ve put forth to get here. We missed the playoffs by a game or two last year, and these guys set forth at the beginning of the season and worked as hard as they could. Of course, it was our goal to win it, but they have nothing to be ashamed of. I’m just as proud of them as I could be.”