Monday, January 13, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Falcons fight for win over West Helena

Leader sports editor

In six weeks of nonconference basketball leading up to conference, the North Pulaski Falcons have built a reputation of being a second-half team. They lived up to that reputation in their conference opener against Helena-West Helena Central Tuesday in Jacksonville.

The Falcons turned a lackluster first half that led to a 10-point deficit, into a crucial 5A-Central Conference victory, scoring 46 points in the second half and beating the Cougars 80-70.

“We just executed the game plan,” said Falcon coach Roy Jackson. “It’d be nice if we could start out like that and not get our backs against the wall all the time. But hey, I’m going to take it. A win is a win. The kids came out and played hard in that second half. They were focused and got the job done.”

Jackson became worried about his team’s focus right away. Central (8-2, 0-1) won the tip, and got six shots on five offensive rebounds and took a 2-0 lead. That became a theme throughout the first two quarters. To go along with their 34-24 halftime lead, the Cougars also held a 32-13 advantage on the boards at the break.

“That worried me,” Jackson said. “When you see the other team come out and get five rebounds in the first 10 seconds, you pretty much know if something don’t change, it’s going to be a long night.”

But something did change. North Pulaski (9-4, 1-0) outrebounded Central by one in the second half.

The Falcons quickly made up the deficit and continued on a big run to start the third quarter. The two teams traded buckets to start the half before the Falcons scored 14 in a row. It started with steals on back-to-back possessions by sophomore guard RaShawn Langston. He dished to post player Steven Farrior after the first, and finished the second with a dunk in transition.

It soon became junior guard De’Marik Brown’s turn to get a pair of steals and layups. When Central missed a three pointer, Farrior got the rebound and hit Brown at the other end of the court for an open layup that gave North Pulaski its first lead at 48-46. Just 20 seconds later, Langston got his third steal and second big dunk with 3:15 left in the period.

Central’s Anthony Lewis finally broke the frenzied run by nailing a three pointer with 1:55 left in the third, and the Falcons took a 52-51 lead into the final period. Another pair of Cougar threes opened the fourth, and the Falcons again found themselves trailing 57-52 with seven minutes left in the game.

The Falcons began making a more concentrated effort on getting to the rim, none more so than Arren Scruggs. The senior guard, whose reputation is that of a shooter, began slicing through the lane and up the baseline for a series of layups. Scruggs scored six in a row, and with five minutes remaining, the Falcons led 63-57 after an 11-0 run.

The Falcons caught a break when an inbound pass from underneath the Central goal sailed out of bounds underneath the North Pulaski goal. Central’s Jeremy Hampton tripped Fred Thomas as he chased the overthrown pass, sending Thomas to the line instead of Central getting the ball under its own basket.

The home team caught another break with 3:35 left in the game when Central post player Ricky Beechwood fouled out with eight points and 16 rebounds. 

Central had to begin fouling to extend the game. North Pulaski was not great from the line, but made just enough to force Central to rush shots, and the Cougars went cold from the floor.

North Pulaski had a chance to put the game out of reach with 1:05 remaining. Leading 74-68, Jovan Donald was called for a personal foul and a technical for his reaction. But the Falcons made just one of the four free throws, and turned the ball over on the subsequent possession. But Central could not capitalize on the opening, missing a three pointer and fouling Thomas after his rebound. He made both free throws with 53 seconds left to make it a nine-point game and effectively end Central’s hopes for a comeback.

All five North Pulaski starters finished in double figures scoring. Scruggs and Farrior each had 16 to lead the way. Langston scored 14, Brown 12 and Thomas 10. Farrior made it a double-double with 12 rebounds.

Reserve guard Jalen Kelly came off the bench to add six points for the Falcons. All six came in the second quarter and turned out to be a huge factor.

“We weren’t playing well at all, and he comes in and gives us six points right there in a hurry to keep it from getting out of hand,” Jackson said of Kelly. “I tell them you have to make those minutes count when you get the chance. He came out and did that and it turned out to be really important.”

Lewis led Central with 17 points. Hampton and Alonzo Murphy scored 11 each and Murphy added 14 rebounds.