Tuesday, January 11, 2011

SPORTS>>Misses at line curtail Comets as Falcons win

Leader sportswriter

0Missed free throws were the deciding factor in the second half of North Pulaski’s 64-54 victory over Mills at the Falcons Nest on Friday.

The Falcons (5-11, 1-0 5A-Southeast) won their conference opener despite hitting only 13 of 25 free throws in the second half. The Comets (7-5, 0-1) wasted even more opportunities in a 9-of-27 performance that included a dreadful 4-of-16 effort in the third quarter.

Both teams reached the double bonus before the fourth quarter in a game that exceeded two hours thanks to a combined 36 trips to the free-throw line.

“It wasn’t easy, because we didn’t make it easy,” North Pulaski coach Raymond Cooper said. “We missed a lot of free throws down the stretch that could have made that thing a lot easier. And then we rushed shots.

“We had four-second possessions with a big lead, and I was like, ‘Guys, we don’t have to do that; we’re playing into their hands.’ ”

Sophomore point guard Dayshawn Watkins showed continued growth for the Falcons with a game-high19 points and seven rebounds. Junior Shyheim Barron added 15 points for North Pulaski.

Watkins, aside from some typical sophomore mistakes, led the Falcons’ offense with confidence, and came away with a pair of early steals that helped North Pulaski take control in the first half.

“He is continuing to develop,” Cooper said. “And as he develops, we develop. He’s our guy — he’s our point guard, and he’s a sophomore. When you’ve got a sophomore point guard, sometimes it’s ups and downs, but he’s way ahead of the curve.

“That’s what I’m pleased with the most is that he’s trying to learn the game and not just depend on his athleticism.”

Kyle Jackson kept the Comets in the game in the third quarter with six of his 12 points before Davion Walton came off the bench to lead the fourth-quarter comeback charge with eight of his nine points. Walton made a three-point basket with 3:18 left to play that cut the Falcons’ lead to single digits, 55-46, for the first time in the second half.

Walton pulled Mills closer with 2:33 left when he hit a pair of free throws to make it 57-51. Watkins answered with a running jumper in the lane, and junior Braylon Spicer hit two free throws with 1:05 remaining that extended the margin to 61-51.

“We fouled them, and we gave them plenty of opportunities,” Cooper said. “We’ve got to shore that up. Just thank goodness tonight that we shot it a little better than they did, and that’s basically what it amounted to.”

Barron helped North Pulaski to its first lead when he took a steal for a layup with 2:10 left in the first quarter and made a three pointer with 32 seconds left to put the Falcons up 16-12.

Williams also added a three-point basket in the rally that ended the first period, and Barron finished the quarter with another steal and layup.

The Falcons held the lead through the second quarter and started to pull away late in the third when Marcus Williams scored to give them a 45-32 lead with 3:21 left.

Watkins then hit free throws to extend it to 48-32, North Pulaski’s biggest advantage before the Comets came creeping back.

Senior Bryan Colson had his hands full with Mills 6-10 post player Denzel Anthony. Colson battled for every one of his eight points and was limited to three rebounds.

Jeremiah Hollis fared better in the rebounding for the Falcons with seven, but Mills held him to four points.

Spicer finished with seven points for North Pulaski and Michael Cross scored six.

The Falcons, who earned at least a share of the 5A-Southeast championship the past two seasons, have struggled in non-conference play. Half of their roster is made up of juniors, many lacking significant varsity experience.

But Cooper said his group is beginning to show maturity when it counts.

“When you lose that first game, it’s like you’re always fighting uphill,” Cooper said. “At first, you get behind that eight ball, and you’re just playing catch-up. Right now, tonight, four teams will be 1-0 and four teams will be 0-1, and it’s good to be in that top four.”