SPORTS >> Wampus Cats edge Falcons in overtime
The North Pulaski Falcons lost their first game of the season in the championship round of the Wampus Cat Invitational at Conway High School on Saturday.
Host Conway needed two overtimes and solid shooting from the free-throw line in the late going to hand North Pulaski an 87-79 loss, which dropped the Falcons to 7-1.
North Pulaski advanced to the finals with a 55-54 victory over Fayetteville in the semifinal round on Friday. Late steals by Aaron Cooper and Bryan Coulson secured the Falcons’ victory over the defending 7A state champions.
But the Wampus Cats took advantage of foul trouble for the Falcons big men and won the rebounding battle to win their own invitational.
“We got killed on the glass,” North Pulaski coach Raymond Cooper said. “And our bench guys have got to step it up. The Conway game exposed us. Their bench guys got in there and played hard — we’re not getting the same effort.
“We need those guys diving and getting rebounds. It’s putting too much stress on our core guys, and it’s causing them to get into foul trouble.”
Senior forward DaQuan Bryant fouled out in regulation, while Bryan Coulson and reserve post Alonte Mitchell each picked up his fifth personal foul in the first overtime.
“We had five guards on the floor for that second overtime, and they pulled away,” Cooper said.
Senior point guard Aaron Cooper led the Falcons with 28 points, with 10 for Coulson and nine points for Christian Knight.
In the Fayetteville game, the Falcons’ 35-25 lead at intermission quickly evaporated at the start of the second half. The Bulldogs used methodical, Princeton-style play to close the gap and eventually take a one-point lead in the final minute.
Fayetteville had the ball with a chance to go up two scores when Cooper stole the ball and was fouled with 8 seconds left. He hit both free throws to put the Falcons up by one, Coulson thwarted the Bulldogs’ final attempt at a back-door play when he stepped in front of the pass for a steal just before the buzzer.
“They changed their offense and were burning us for lay-ups,” Cooper said. “We finally settled down and started playing better defense. We held them scoreless for the last three minutes of the game.”
Kyron Ware led North Pulaski with 19 points. DaQuan Bryant had 15 points, and Cooper finished with 12.
With eight games played, Cooper still wants to see more improvement on the defensive front.
“Defensively, we have got to get tougher,” he said. “We try to get too fancy and steal all the time. We need to be a little more patient with our defense.”