With a two-possession lead and under a minute to play, Jalen Cherry posted up in the corner, took a pass and unleashed a 3-point attempt.
The ball hit nothing but net, cementing a 58-51 win for the Cooper Cougars over Lubbock Cooper in a raucous environment Friday night at Cougar Gym.
The shot, which sent the crowd into a frenzy and pulled the Cougars into a tie for the District 4-5A lead, was one Cooper coach Bryan Conover didn’t mind seeing one of his four seniors take.
“If you shoot as good as he does, to me, that’s a 60-40 shot,” Conover said. “It’s got a 60 percent chance of going in unguarded, and we will take it.”
The crowd, which had been loud and boisterous all night, was a major factor in the win.
“This was definitely one of the biggest crowds I’ve played (in front of),” Cherry said. “One of the other big (crowds) was sophomore year against (Abilene) High, but this topped it because it was Senior Night and had so much energy.”
Conover was also quick to credit the fans.
“The crowd has been great and we try to do promotions and stuff to get students involved,” he said. “It’s always great to see the support. In basketball, I think it helps when you’re a little successful because more people come out and watch. The crowds have been great and helped our kids get going.”
Coupled with Wylie’s win over Lubbock Monterey, the Cougars moved into a three-way tie for the district lead with the Plainsmen and Bulldogs. Abilene Cooper is at Monterey on Tuesday, and with a win there the Coogs will clinch at least a share of the district title, as well as the league’s top playoff seed.
Getting a top-two seed for the playoffs is important as it means the Cougars would avoid a bi-district matchup with either Amarillo High or Amarillo Palo Duro.
Cooper shot out to an 11-2 lead after the opening quarter on Friday night — a start that was triggered by the defense. Senior point guard Drew Gonzalez led the defensive effort, but it was a block at the buzzer off the backboard by Cherry that got crowd going.
“(Drew) is a little pest,” Cherry said. “The reason why our defense is so (good) is because we are so prepared. Our coaches wake up early and stay up late at night going over the scouting and getting us ready for the game to give us our best chance to win.”
Conover was also quick to praise the play of his point guard, despite the fact that Gonzalez found himself in foul trouble early.
“He did a great job,” Conover said. “Drew is our best defender and gets into people. He kind of got a couple of early fouls, which he gets a little overaggressive at times, but he’s playing hard and it’s hard to reel him back (in).”
Even with the fast start, the Cougars had to weather a comeback from the Pirates, who opened the second quarter on a 15-3 run to take a 17-14 lead. In a display of what was to come the rest of the night, Abilene Cooper was able to battle back and finished the first half on a 7-3 run to take a 21-20 lead into the locker room.
Lubbock Cooper used a strong run over the final two minutes of the third quarter to trim the Cougars lead from 36-24 to 36-30, but Cherry’s 3-pointer at the buzzer stole the momentum back for the hosts.
“That was a huge shot,” said Conover. “They had gotten it down to a six-point game and he hits that and then we got the ball coming out in the (fourth quarter). It gave us a little momentum.”
The Pirates came out on fire in the fourth quarter, cutting Abilene Cooper’s lead to 41-37 after just two minutes, before the Cougars responded with five of the next seven points to extend the lead.
Lubbock Cooper had a chance to tie the game with 2:53 to play, but Connor Gant missed the front end of a 1-and-1 from the free-throw line and the Cougars were able to close out the game from there.
Cherry led Cooper with 16 points, while Kam Gray had 15 and Gonzalez added 11.
“It was a great start and then we got a little foul trouble,” Conover said. “We had them down and thought we could bury them, but they battled back and stuck in the game. They made it tough but we were lucky enough to make a few shots down the stretch to win.”
DISTRICT 4-5A BOYS PLAYOFF PICTURE
- Tuesday: Abilene Cooper (6-3) at Lubbock Monterey (6-3); Lubbock Cooper (5-4) at Lubbock High; Wylie (6-3) at Lubbock Coronado
- If Abilene Cooper and Wylie both win, the Cougars would be the No. 1 seed out of District 4-5A thanks to their season sweep of the Bulldogs. Monterey would then be the No. 3 seed with Lubbock Cooper taking fourth.
- If Abilene Cooper, Lubbock Cooper and Coronado win, Abilene Cooper wins the district championship outright. This would then create a three-way tie for second between Lubbock Cooper, Monterey and Wylie. The Bulldogs would get the No. 2 seed as they went 3-1 against the Pirates and Plainsmen, while the Plainsmen would finish No. 3 and Lubbock Cooper No. 4.
- If Monterey, Lubbock Cooper and Wylie win, the Bulldogs earn the No. 1 seed and Monterey the No. 2. Abilene Cooper and Lubbock Cooper would then either play a seeding game or have a coin flip to determine the No. 3 and 4 seeds by virtue of splitting their district contests.
- If Monterey, Lubbock Cooper and Coronado win, the Plainsmen would be the No. 1 seed, the Cougars the No. 2, Lubbock Cooper No. 3 and Wylie No. 4.
ABILENE COOPER 58, LUBBOCK COOPER 51
Lubbock Cooper (14-18, 5-4) — Connor Gant 0 0-1 0, Amaree’ Garmon 6 0-0 13, Shelton Hearon 0 1-2 1, Noah Hall 4 0-2 10, Brady Watson 4 5-8 13, Sam Marcinkowski 2 0-0 4, Cole Cleaveland 1 0-0 2, Hayden Bradley 1 0-0 2, Holton Hendrix 2 2-4 6. Totals 20 8-17 51.
Abilene Cooper (19-10, 6-3) — Drew Gonzalez 4 2-4 11, Colin Reed 2 2-3 6, Jaelyn Rivera 3 0-0 6, Kam Gray 5 1-2 15, Tristen Rau 2 0-0 4, Jalen Cherry 5 2-4 16. Totals 21 7-13 58.
3-Point Goals — Lubbock Cooper 3 (Hall 2, Garmon); Abilene Cooper 9 (Gray 4, Cherry 4, Gonzalez). Fouled Out — None. Technical Fouls — None. Total Fouls — Lubbock Cooper 20; Abilene Cooper 19.