IN LIKE FLYNN
By TJ MAXWELL
The Copperas Cove Bulldawgs came out like gangbusters in the season finale against Waco Midway with a potential playoff spot riding on the outcome.
The powerful Panthers, however, overcame a 30-29 deficit at halftime and pulled away behind 6-foot-9 center Bubba Furlong to win 63-49 and put Cove’s playoff chances in jeopardy.
“One bright spot I did see tonight is we started playing and clicking the way we need to,” said Copperas Cove head basketball coach Billy White Jr. “Unfortunately, down the stretch we weren’t able to get the ball in the bucket and that cost us some. We missed some free throws, some putbacks and some easy buckets and on the other end they were shooting free throws.”
Lopsided foul calls allowed the Panthers to pull away from the free throw line. Midway was 16 for 19 from the charity stripe in the second half while the Dawgs mustered just five points on 11 free throw attempts down the stretch.
“We just stopped putting the ball in the bucket,” said White. “On the other side of it, they were shooting tons of free throws. They were scoring from the line where we couldn’t defend them and we couldn’t put it in the bucket on the easy ones. That was the tale of the second.
“On one end it did feel a little chippy. I don’t like to comment on the officials but it was tough tonight. Midway was in the bonus like halfway through the third quarter and we didn’t get in the bonus until late in the fourth.”
The Bulldawgs (18-15 overall, 6-8 in District 8-6A) had an answer for everything the Panthers offered up in the first half. Eight different players scored in the first half for Cove, paced by junior Tyrese Cooley’s seven points, as they executed on both ends of the floor.
A drive by senior Dahmir Pearson and a spot-up jumper by senior Jordan Govan gave the Dawgs a 4-1 advantage until Midway senior Xavier Armstead connected from three-point range to tie the game at four.
After a few more ties, a free throw by junior Jylil Rice and a steal for a layup by junior Neyland Block gave the edge to Cove, 13-10, two minutes into the second quarter.
A pair of drives by Cooley that resulted in a pair of free throws and an ‘and 1’ opportunity, along with two free throws by Pearson helped Cove maintain the lead until a pair of free throws by freshman Anthony Scott gave Midway their first lead of the quarter, 21-20.
A pair of three-pointers by sophomore Quinton Ford and two free throws by junior Justus Honea helped the Dawgs take a 30-26 lead, but Furlong cut the lead back to one with a traditional three-point play with 2.5 seconds remaining for the 30-29 Cove lead at the break.
A 10-2 run by the Panthers to start the third period flipped it from a one-point Cove lead to a seven-point Panther lead with over six minutes left in the period.
The Dawgs climbed right back in the game with an ‘and 1’ opportunity by Ford and consecutive buckets by Rice and Honea but a three from beyond the arc by Armstead pushed the Panthers’ lead back to seven, 44-37, on the way to a 48-39 lead after three quarters of action.
An 11-3 run by the Panthers to begin the final period gave them a 17-point lead, 57-40 with just under five minutes to play.
A free throw, driving layup and an ‘and 1’ by Pearson, along with 2 for 4 free throws by Ford cut the Midway lead to 10, 59-49 with 3:00 left on the clock.
Consecutive successful trips to the free throw line by Furlong secure the win and the tie for second place for Midway (27-6, 11-3).
Only four players scored for Cove in the second half after having twice that number involved on the offensive end in the first half.
Ford led the Dawgs with 13 points and six rebounds while Pearson added 10 points and nine boards. Cooley and Rice added seven points each followed by Honea (4), junior Jacob Carter (2), Block (2) and Govan (2).
Furlong notched a double-double to lead the Panthers with a 22 points and 13 rebounds followed by Armstead’s 18 points and three steals, Scott (8 pts), Malachi Barron (7) and Levi Whiddon (3).
The Dawgs playoff position was cemented, though, when District 8-6A Champion Shoemaker held off Killeen 51-47 across town to give Cove the fourth and final playoff spot where the will face no. 2 ranked District 7-6A Champions Cedar Hill (28-4, 14-0).
“We will play Cedar Hill,” said White. “We have some film coming on those guys. We’ll break the film down, prepare and get ready to go get them.”
The brutal schedule that is 8-6A basketball should help the Dawgs be prepared for what they’ll face in the playoffs with Ellison, Shoemaker and Waco Midway all cracking the top 15 this year.
“I honestly feel like we have one of the toughest districts in the state and we try to schedule a tough non-district schedule,” said White. “As far as talented players and teams, we play against that all year so its nothing we haven’t seen before. We’re battle tested. We just have to break down their personnel and prepare our guys for what they’re trying to run.”
The Dawgs will face the Cedar Hill Longhorns in bi-district round of the 2016-17 UIL Boys State Basketball Championships 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 21 at Glen Rose High School.
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