Wednesday, December 18, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Falcons topple Fayetteville

Leader sports editor

The North Pulaski Falcons got one of their biggest wins under third-year coach Roy Jackson on Saturday, beating defending class 7A runner-up Fayetteville 61-59 in overtime in the third-place game of the John Stanton Memorial Classic at Conway High School. The Falcons showed patience and poise to pull off the win after trailing by two with 1.7 seconds left in regulation and by three with 58 seconds left in overtime.

“This is an important win for us,” said Jackson. “Fayetteville may not be as talented as they were last year, but they still got that size and they’re still an excellent team. I see them going a long way in that 7A.”

Trailing 52-50, point guard RaShawn Langston was fouled with 1.7 seconds left in regulation. The 6-foot-3 sophomore coolly stepped up and dropped both free throws into the bottom of the net to send the game into overtime.

Fayetteville scored first in overtime and got a defensive stop with a chance to extend the lead. But senior Fred Thomas stole the ball and passed to Langston, who attacked the rim, drew two defenders and dished to Steven Farrior for a layup and a 55-54 North Pulaski lead.

Fayetteville then scored the next four points, taking a 58-55 lead when 6-7 post player C.J. O’Grady picked up a loose ball and scored with 1:20 left in overtime.

North Pulaski’s Aaren Scruggs was fouled on the next possession and hit both free throws, something Fayetteville was not able to do down the stretch, to make it 58-57.

O’Grady was fouled on the Bulldogs’ next possession but missed both free throws, air-balling the second one to give the Falcons possession with 55 seconds left.

That possession was pivotal. North Pulaski ran its offense to perfection, making five passes while keeping the ball moving. It paid off when Scruggs gave it up to Langston at the top of the key, then cut to the basket unguarded. Langston spotted the open man and hit Scruggs for an uncontested layup that put the Falcons up 69-58 with 35 seconds on the clock.

“That’s something we’ve been drilling and drilling and working on in practice,” Jackson said. “Slowing down, being patient and letting the offense work for you instead of you forcing the offense. And then look what happens.”

With 14 seconds left, Fayetteville guard Payton Willis went to the line for two shots. He made the first, but missed the second, leaving it tied at 59. Thomas got the rebound for the Falcons and called timeout with 10.4 seconds left.

Jackson told his team to spread the floor and let Langston attack the basket, and the strategy worked. Langston faked left, crossed over to his right and hit a scooping layup with two seconds remaining. Fayetteville, without any timeouts left, wasn’t able to inbound the ball and get a shot off before time expired.

“They had been in man defense so I felt like we could get to the rim if we spread it out,” Jackson said. “Langston made a great play.”

The win was all the more impressive since the Falcons won the game without leading scorer and Division I signee Joe Aikens, who left the game after rolling his ankle just before halftime. He was walking on it and jogging up and down the bench shortly after leaving the game, but was held out in the second half just as a precaution.

“He’s the leader of the team, so for us to put things together and get a win like this without him is even better,” Jackson said. “The two games we’ve lost, we didn’t play as a team. This game right here, we played team basketball. There wasn’t any one player that stepped up, everybody stepped up. Scruggs hit some big shots and some big free throws. Shawn made that great play and hit those two free throws. I thought Fred and Steven battled hard on the boards with those big guys. De’Marik Brown hit some huge shots for us in the second half. It was just a team effort.”

Brown and Scruggs shared leading scoring honors with 13 points each. All 13 of Brown’s came in the second half, when he went 5 for 6 from the floor, including 3 for 3 from three-point range. His 25-footer at the buzzer to end the third quarter put the Falcons in front 36-33. He added another one to start the fourth quarter that put the Falcons up six before the Bulldogs began to battle back.

Fayetteville didn’t try to utilize its considerable size advantage, instead relying heavily on outside shooting. The Bulldogs took 40 shots, 20 of them from beyond the arc. They made 21 of their 40 shot attempts, but only seven three pointers.

The Falcons were 23 of 46 from the floor, and made four of their seven three-point attempts. Fayetteville hit 10 of 17 free-throw attempts while North Pulaski made 11 of 17. The Falcons outrebounded the much bigger Bulldogs 21-16.

The task grows even bigger this week, when North Pulaski hosts overall No. 1 ranked Parkview on Friday.