Leader Blues

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

SPORTS >> Falcons survive big scare from four-seed Cougars, move on

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

ALMA – Survival is a key component to making it through the state tournament.
And survive is about all North Pulaski did in its first-round game with West Helena on Tuesday afternoon.

The Falcons hung on, despite the loss of guard Aaron Cooper in the final two minutes, for a 62-58 win at the 5A state tournament at Alma High School. North Pulaski (23-6) will play the winner of today’s game between Pulaski Academy and Central Arkansas Christian to-morrow at 8:30 p.m in the quarterfinal round.

“Every worst-case scenario that we talked about avoiding in the game happened,” said North Pulaski coach Raymond Cooper. “We told Aaron and Daquan (Bryant) that they have got to stay out of foul trouble early and let some things go in the first half. We spent the last few minutes with Aaron on the bench and Daquan with four. We talked about how we had to be active to the ball, and we didn’t do a very good job of that either.”

Bryant hit the final go-ahead basket for the Falcons with 32 seconds left to put North Pulaski up 59-58, then pulled down a defensive rebound when John Dismuke missed in the lane with 20 seconds remaining.

Bryant drew the foul, and hit both ends to give the Falcons a 61-58 lead. Dismuke missed a chance to tie with a three-pointer, and T.J. Green pulled down the final board and tacked on one more free throw.

The Falcons carried a slim 47-43 lead into the fourth quarter but that quickly evaporated in the lane at the hands of the larger and more physical Cougars. West Helena fought off an early 5-0 run by the Falcons to take a 55-54 lead at the 2:32 mark.

Then Cooper picked up his fifth foul with 1:55 remaining to send Dismuke to the line. He hit the back end to give the Cougars a 56-54 lead.

After a Bryant free throw, Kryron Ware drove inside to give the lead back to North Pulaski with 1:26 left. West Helena answered to go back up 58-57 before Bryant hit his game-winner with 31 seconds remaining.

North Pulaski’s only true swing of momentum of the game was in the opening minutes of the third quarter, when the Falcons went on an 11-0 run to go from a 31-24 deficit at halftime to a 35-31 lead by the 5:57 mark of the third. The Cougars quickly regrouped and responded with a three-point basket from Dismuke.

Jerald Blair moved the lead back to four with a trey before Justin Fitzgerald cut it to 38-36 at the 4:13 mark.

Christian Knight gave the Falcons their biggest lead of the second half with 2:11 left in the third quarter with a putback that made it 44-38, but West Helena closed out the period on a 5-1 run, and put Bryant and NP senior post Carlos Donley in foul trouble with four each.

Cooper picked up his fourth foul with 2:39 left in the third, and exited late in the fourth after trying to recover the ball after a steal by West Helena’s Dismuke.

North Pulaski paced itself to a 14-6 lead early. Cooper started the game with a trey, and hit his second three-pointer at the 2:01 mark for an eight-point NP advantage. The Cougars set the standard of outdueling the Falcons down the stretch of each quarter with a 5-0 run that made the score 14-11 heading into the second period.

Things fell apart for the Falcons with six turnovers in the second quarter. Timothy Kirby knotted it at 16 with 5:39 left in the half, and West Helena captured its first lead of the game with a pair of Kirby free throws less than 30 seconds later.

North Pulaski shot 23 of 51 from the floor for the game, while Central West Helena was 20 of 51.

Cooper led the Falcons with 24 points. Bryant added 12 points, nine rebounds and three assists. Gerald Blair had 10 points for North Pulaski.

For the Cougars, Fitzgerald led with 14 points.