The idea of repeating as state champions ended for the Central Coosa Cougars Tuesday night. The Ariton Purple Cats fought back in the final quarter to steal a 53-50 road win in a Class 2A Southeast Sub-Regional.
Coosa’s Noel Jones led all scorers with 24 points, but his effort to try and tie the game at the end of regulation wasn’t quite enough as his desperation 3-pointer from just inside half-court clanked off the back iron.
Central Coosa coach Richard Bell was disappointed in the outcome but he knows he’ll have plenty of talent returning next season.
“We’ve got a lot of guys coming back, so we’ll build off of that,” Bell said. “They were young, and it was their first time in the playoffs, and they’ll grow from that experience and be better prepared next season. I’ll do a better job of getting them ready as well because they made a couple of bad turnovers there at the end, but we’ll grow from the experience and keep on moving from it.”
Ariton was in control for most of the first half and took a 25-21 halftime lead in a low-scoring first two quarters.
Central Coosa’s most successful quarter came after halftime as the Cougars put up 21 third-quarter points to match their first-half total.
In the third quarter, the Cougars were led by Jones who had 10 points; Quin Brooks chipped in with six points and Dequalon Thomas also hit a 3-pointer as Central Coosa took a 42-39 lead into the final quarter. Brooks was the only other Cougar to finish in double figures with 11 points.
Holding a slim three-point lead, the final quarter is where the game got interesting.
A few minutes into the fourth quarter, Central Coosa held a 47-45 lead until Ariton’s Landon Taylor and Ian Senn scored back-to-back baskets to give the Cats a 49-47 edge with 2:25 remaining.
The Cougars responded as Jones hit a runner while drawing a foul. Jones sank the free throw to give Central Coosa a 50-49 lead with 1:48 left, but unfortunately for the Cougars, those were their final points.
With under a minute to play, Ariton missed the front end of a 1 and 1 but several offensive rebounds gave the Purple Cats more opportunities.
Ariton’s Hayes Floyd banked in a shot off the glass with 30 seconds to play to regain a 51-50 lead.
With 19.2 seconds left, Central Coosa called a timeout trailing by one but the possession out of the timeout resulted in a Jones’ 3-pointer that rimmed out with 8.2 seconds left.
Floyd then stepped to the free-throw line and buried both shots to give Ariton a 53-50 lead with 3.9 seconds left.
With little time to advance the ball, Jones pulled up from just inside of half-court to attempt the game-tying 3-pointer, but it wasn’t meant to be.
After the game, Bell said he addressed the late game situations with his players.
“The late game situations I just told the guards to tell them to read the situation and look at the clock and everything,” Bell said. “We got the lead and that’s not the shot that we want and let’s not try and be in such a rush and that’s what happened.”