Monday, January 07, 2008

SPORTS >> Buzzer beater lifts Falcons

Leader news editor

Blytheville led North Pulaski for all of 11 seconds of the game. Those 11 seconds came in the last 22 seconds of the fourth quarter, but there would be no late comeback by the Chickasaws on this night.

Ridge Williams tied it with a free throw with 11 seconds left. NP forced a turnover with 3.5 seconds left, and Kelvin Parker released a running floater milliseconds before the buzzer to lift the Falcons to a huge 73-71 conference opening victory over the Blytheville Chickasaws on Friday night in the Falcons’ Nest at NPHS.

After the Blytheville turnover under the Chicks’ basket with 3.5 seconds on the clock, NP used its last timeout to call a play for sophomore Aaron Cooper.

Blytheville figured the call would go to Cooper, so he wasn’t open after the screen set by Parker. Parker broke to the ball, took the inbounds pass on the right wing, and went the length of the court for the game winner.

“I knew when I caught it they would be playing off of me because they didn’t want to foul,” Parker said. “We were looking to get the ball to our main shooter Aaron breaking off the screen. When I caught it I knew there wasn’t a break open so I went straight to the hole.”

Parker had missed a couple of layups early in the game, but said that didn’t faze him at crunch time. “I didn’t let that bother me because I knew the game was four quarters.”

North Pulaski coach Raymond Cooper was equally excited.

“The first option was Aaron, but if he couldn’t get it, we wanted it to go to Kelvin because of his speed and ball handling,” Cooper said. “It wasn’t the play I drew up, but I’ll take it. That was a big shot for him and his confidence. If we can get him reigned in a little bit, he could really be a difference maker for us because he’s a hard guy to stay in front of.”

North Pulaski had a hard time defending Blytheville’s Gabriel Osagie, especially in the fourth quarter when Osagie became a one-man Falcon sniper. He scored 16 of his game-high 24 points in the last four minutes of the game.

His first bucket of the fourth came with four minutes left and cut North Pulaski’s lead, which was 41-26 at its largest, to 62-55.

Seconds later, NP’s DaQuan Bryant missed a point-blank layup, and Osagie’s second three got Blytheville as close as it had been since the first quarter at 62-58.

Parker and sophomore Kyron Ware got back-to-back steals and layups to push it back out to an eight-point NP advantage, but Osagie was just getting warmed up.

His next bucket came from about 26 feet out with Ridge Williams practically on top of him, but it didn’t matter.

With 52 seconds left in the game, Osagie’s steal and dunk tied it 68 apiece and forced North Pulaski to call timeout. Cooper answered out of the break with a runner off the backboard with 37 seconds left.

Blytheville missed at the other end, but Osagie was there for the rebound and putback, plus a free throw when he was fouled on the shot. His foul shot was good, and gave the Chicks their only lead at 71-70 with 22 seconds remaining.

“Raymond Cooper wasn’t upset with how Osagie went off in the fourth quarter, but he was upset with how his team dealt with the tightening game.

“I give the kid all the credit for his scoring spurt,” Cooper said. “He went into a zone and just took his game to another level. There wasn’t anything we could do about the shots he was making. We were on him, it just didn’t matter. What I didn’t like was that we let it get to us on the offensive end. We stopped running our sets and just tried to score right back. We lost our focus and that’s something I’ve got to get fixed because this conference is brutal.”

North Pulaski started the game with a 7-0 run in the first minute. Blytheville settled down and came back to tie the game briefly at 13 with 2:43 left in the first quarter. It didn’t stay that way long. Another 7-0 Falcon run put the home team up for the rest of the half.

Foul trouble plagued both teams early, and the second quarter largely became a free-throw shooting contest, one that neither team did well in, but one that NP was a little better. In the first half, The Falcons had made 12 of 20 foul shots, while the Chicks were six of 16.

Those free throws and a late run by the Falcons put the home team up 41-26 at the break. Melvin Brooks added 12 while Ojay Cullins scored 11 for Blytheville, which dropped to 8-4 overall and 0-1 in league play. Cliff Harrison led the Falcons with 15 points. Williams added 14 and Cooper scored 12.

NP improved to 8-6 overall and 1-0. The Falcons are on the road next Friday to take on the Paragould Rams.

Blytheville 68, NP girls 37

The Lady Falcons were buried under the Blytheville press in the second quarter enroute to a 68-37 loss. A 20-10 Blytheville lead early in the second became 45-16 by halftime.

The Lady Chicks improved to 11-3 while NP fell to 3-10.