Cougars trying to clinch top seed in districtBy ROBBIE ROBERTSON,
With one week left to go in the regular season, the Newton County Cougars have put themselves in position to claim the top spot in the upcoming Division 5-4A Tournament.
The Cougars moved a little bit closer to that goal last week as they took a pair of 5-4A wins, beating rival West Lauderdale 53-41 on Tuesday and Northeast Lauderdale 67-41 on Friday night.
The Cougars are now 16-8 on the season 5-3 in 5-4A play. The Cougars will host Quitman on Tuesday night for Senior night and will travel to Northeast Jones on Thursday in the regular-season finale.
County 53, West Lauderdale 41
East Central Community College signee Jalin Nicholson pumped in a game-high 24 points as the Cougars took a 53-41 win over the Knights.
The Cougars improve to 15-7 and 4-3 in 5-4A play with the win while the Knights fell to 13-8 and 3-4 in 5-4A play.
Cougars head coach Steve Harber was relieved after the game to come away with a win.
“The guys all kind of pulled together,” Harber said. “That was a team effort. Defensively, they executed what we were trying to do. For two days, we have been talking about what we wanted to do to them on defense and the guys bought into it and executed it. That was a big win for us after they destroyed us when we went over there. We just played with a lot more intensity.”
The game was a defensive grind as County got a pair of 3-pointers in the first period from Nicholson for an 8-4 lead at the end of the first.
The Cougars ended the first half on a 9-2 run as Nicholson drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give County a 24-13 lead at the half.
After County extended the lead in the third period by outscoring West 10-6 for a 34-19 lead, the Cougars seemed to be in control.
The Cougars pulled out to a 20-point lead on a pair of free throws by Nicholson with 3:40 left to play. But the Knights scored 12 straight points to pull within eight with 24.7 left to play. But a pair of free throws by Jarius Huddleston ended the run and the Cougars held on for the win.
“We had a 20-point lead and seemed to be in control and then we started fouling,” Harber said. “Then I got in even worse foul trouble. I’m already down one player and then we lose two more to fouls. I thought Jarius Huddleston did a tremendous job of handling the basketball with Yunish (Billy) out. He’s never had to handle the basketball like that.”
After Nicholson’s 24 points, Chris Mulford had 11 points while Peyton Reeves and Jerelle Taylor added eight points apiece.
County 67, NE Lauderdale 41
The Cougars used a stingy defense to build a big first-half lead and take down the Trojans.
County led 11-9 at the end of the first period and they outscored the Trojans 15-4 in the second period for a 26-13 lead at the half. After County outscored Northeast 16-14 in the third, the Cougars put the game away in the fourth by outscoring the Trojans 25-14.
“I thought we played really well defensively,” Harber said. “They didn’t have but six baskets in the first half. We rebounded well and everybody chipped in. I thought it was one of the best games we have played. Chris Mulford really had a good night, he scored 21 points in the second half.”
Mulford led the Cougars with 23 points and 12 rebounds while Jalin Nicholson had 16 points. Peyton Reeves had 12 points and 11 rebounds.