Cougars rally to take third place


Don’t blame Newton County boys’ basketball coach Steve Harber if he doesn’t like playing at West Lauderdale.

On Jan. 12, the Cougars lost 66-37 at West Lauderdale. On Thursday, the Cougars played one of their worst games of the season in the semifinals of the Division 5-4A tournament in a 42-31 loss to Mendenhall.

The Cougars finally put together a good game at West Lauderdale in the consolation game of the 5-4A Tournament, beating rival West 43-40 on Friday night.

The Cougars improve to 19-8 on the season and will hit the road to Pass Christian on Tuesday night in a 7 p.m. contest. Pass Christian finished as the No. 2 seed in Division 8-4A, falling to Bay High 68-50 in the tournament finals. The Pirates are 9-15 on the season and have rebounded from a slow start after losing nine of 10 games to start the season.

“They play all of those teams on the Coast and are very aggressive,” Harber said. “Everybody plays man and gets in your face. They played a really competitive schedule like we did. We feel like we are ready to do down there. It will be about three and a half hours on the bus. It’s a long trip but we’ve done it before.”

Newton County 43, West Lauderdale 40

In the 5-4A Tournament consolation game, the Cougars used a rugged defensive effort to take a three-point win over the Knights.

County jumped out to a 9-0 lead in the first period and led 23-13 at the half. But the Knights outscored the Cougars 19-9 in the third to tie the game at 32-32 going into the fourth. County outscored West 11-8 in the fourth to take the win.

“We got on them early and played really good on defense,” Harber said. “We have struggled a little bit on offense and finally got out of that in the fourth quarter. We forced some turnovers and got some easy layups. I was just glad to get out of there with a win. You never know how a third-place game is going to go.”

Chris Mulford led County with 15 points while Jalin Nicholson had 12 points. Yunish Billy had eight points while Jerelle Taylor added six points.

Mendenhall boys 42, Newton County 31

The top-seeded Cougars fell to No. 4 seed Mendenhall in the first boys semifinal contest on Thursday.

Mendenhall led the majority of the contest in a slow-paced first three periods. The Tigers led 14-9 at the end of the first, 22-14 at the half and 26-17 at the end of the third.

But three straight 3-pointers by Newton County pulled the Cougars to within 30-27 with 4:04 left in the game.

“When we cut the score to three, I thought we had a good chance,” Newton County coach Steve Harber said. “We had some good looks at the basket but just couldn’t get them to go down. I thought we played well on defense and rebounded well, we just didn’t score.”

Yunish Billy led Newton County (18-8) with nine points while Peyton Reeves had eight points.

Postseason awards

The Division 5-4A coaches voted on their regular-season awards recently. Yunish Billy, Jalin Nicholson, Peyton Reeves and Chris Mulford were each voted all-district selections while Jarius Huddleston was voted honorable mention. Mulford was named the Defensive MVP of the division while Steve Harber was named the Boys Coach of the year after the Cougars won the regular-season district championship.


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