SPORTS >> Older, wiser Falcons win big
Special to The Leader
ALMA – The North Pulaski Falcons weren’t going to get fooled two years in a row.
A year after narrowly escaping an early-round upset, North Pulaski approached Thursday’s first-round game in the Class 5A state tournament much differently.
The Falcons outscored Greenbrier in every quarter and methodically marched to a 67-47 victory at Airedale Arena to advance to the second round.
Last year, North Pulaski was the top seed out of the 5A-Southeast and the leading contender for the state championship, but barely slipped past Central Arkansas Christian, 64-63, in the second round.
“We almost got knocked out last year,” North Pulaski coach Raymond Cooper said. “CAC throws up a seven-foot shot right at the buzzer. If that shot goes in, we’re going home. Our guys really have an understanding of how you have to be focused and prepared. Everybody talks about how experience helps; we understand.”
North Pulaski (23-5) never trailed in the contest and just slowly pulled away in each quarter.
“We’ve had so many games where we jumped on people early that we started to expect it,” Cooper said. “We told them that the pace was going to be slow and that we’re going to have to, quarter-by-quarter, just keep playing solid and play defense the whole possession. If one guy falls asleep, they find him. It really teaches them to stay in it mentally.”
Kyron Ware hit a three-pointer to start the Falcons on the way to the victory. Aaron Cooper also added a three-pointer in the opening quarter, and North Pulaski took a 14-10 lead.
I.J. Ready hit a three-pointer to open the second quarter for the Falcons, who cruised into halftime with a 31-19 lead. North Pulaski scored the final six points of the half with Cooper hitting two free throws, Ready driving for a layup and Cooper converting a steal into a basket as North Pulaski opened the game up.
“That was a pivotal time right before halftime where they made that run where they stretched the lead out to double figures,” Greenbrier coach Jason Johnson said. “What we needed to do was slow down and run our stuff.”
North Pulaski padded its lead to 43-25 with a 6-0 run in the third quarter before settling for a 46-30 lead heading to the final period.
“They’re a very good team,” Johnson said. “We had opportunities but didn’t take advantage. Their pressure was a factor. We have pressure valves all throughout our offense. One thing we didn’t do very well was use those pressure valves to release the pressure and turn their pressure against them and get some layups.”
Daquan Bryant, Shyheim Barron, Cooper and Courvoisiea Allen all scored during an 8-0 run that extended the Falcons’ lead to 55-41 midway through the quarter and end all doubts.
Greenbrier sophomore Neal Burcham led all scorers with 19 points, hitting three second-half three-pointers.
“A couple of times we lost Burcham and left him open,” Cooper said.
“We lost our focus here and there, but they stuck to the game plan real well.
“We don’t see that style that much and a team that is as good as they are.”
Aaron Cooper scored 16 points and had seven steals. Ware added 15 points and four rebounds. Ready had nine points and six steals.
North Pulaski played Blytheville in the semifinals on Friday night. Today’s semifinal game is at 7:30 p.m.