Tuesday, January 17, 2012

SPORTS >> Falcons break through with league victory

Leader sports editor

The North Pulaski Falcons finally broke their losing streak on Friday, picking up a conference victory at home against Crossett, 69-56. The Falcons won their season opener by a huge margin over Pulaski Robinson, but had lost 13 in a row, including three overtime games and several other close calls.

Finally getting over the hump was a big deal for coach Roy Jackson’s squad.

“That was a good win for us,” Jackson said. “The kids have stayed positive and kept working hard. We’ve been aiming for conference the whole time, but it gets hard when you can’t get a win. We’ve been improving. I’ve seen the progress, but it helps a lot to get a win so the kids can see the progress. They’ve done everything we’ve asked, and that’s all I can ask for. They came out with intensity and they executed the game plan.”

The game plan was to make Crossett’s leading scorer, Shaquille Culbreath, work for everything he got. The Falcons played a lot of man defense, but also employed a box-and-one to deny Culbreath the ball.

“He’s by far their best ball handler and best player,” Jackson said. “We wanted to force their other guys to take the ball and make decisions with it. He still got 24 but he had to work for it, and I think towards the end he was a little tired.”

The Falcons stormed out to an 18-5 lead in the first quarter with good defensive pressure that forced several Eagle turnovers. The Falcons weren’t quite as dominant in the second quarter, but managed to add to their lead and take a 37-21 lead into the locker room at halftime.

“We came out really aggressive and ready to play,” Jackson said. “I thought we came out flat against Watson Chapel (a home loss on Tuesday), and we wanted to change that. We came in this game and became the aggressors. We sort of took it to them, and you could see the evidence of that at the free-throw line.”

Jacksonville shot 25 free throws and made 18 of them against the Eagles after getting to the line just eight times against Watson Chapel.

North Pulaski had to fight off a Crossett rally in the third quarter. After North Pulaski stretched its lead 20 points, the Eagles climbed back to within 11 when a Shaquille Culbreath basket made it 50-39, but the Falcons ended the rally shortly afterwards.

North Pulaski’s Eric Mouton answered Culbreath’s basket with a three pointer. Brandon Simpkins then got a steal and a layup to make it 55-39 to match the halftime margin and put an end to Crossett’s last real threat of the game.

“They answered every challenge,” Jackson said. “Really it started in the second half of the Chapel game. They came and fought hard to get back in that one. We just had to start fouling, and they made their free throws. That final score was not indicative of how close that game was. We felt like we gave that one away with how we started it, but we ended it well and it carried over to this one.”

Brandon Simpkins led the Falcons with a season-high 20 points. Fred Thomas added 13 and post player Jeremiah Thomas scored 11. Culbreath led Crossett (5-5, 1-2) with 24 points.

The Falcons went to Sylvan Hills on Tuesday and will be at Monticello on Friday. Jackson is optimistic that his squad can rally from the poor start to the season and make the playoffs.

“You’ve got Mills and Sylvan Hills at the top, and after that it’s out there for anybody,” Jackson said. “Crossett beat Watson Chapel then went to Monticello and lost by one point. We beat Crossett. That’s why it’s so bad that we lost to Watson Chapel at home. We have to get those home wins. Now we have to go to someone else’s house and steal one to get back even. But I really feel like we can do it. We can get to the playoffs.”