Cougars didn’t quit playing – win on shot at the buzzer

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Peyton Blackburn scores some of his 19 points with this move to the basket in win over Graham. (Brian Bishop/PC Patriot)
By Dan Callahan
The Patriot
    You’ve heard it before. People usually just call it coach speak. The team is down, way down, seemingly out of the game. But the coach says keep playing hard, keep making one play at a time, one stop at a time, stay in it. Most of the time it doesn’t end up meaning anything.
     But sometimes when you keep competing good things happen. It happened at PCHS Tuesday evening. Pulaski County’s basketball team trailed 36-17 at the half to Graham. The lead reached 23 points midway in the third quarter.
     At that point the G-Men decided to slow things down and just coast home with an easy win. But not this night. This night would shockingly come to an end with a three-point bomb off the left wing from the fingers of Haydon Gray. The buzzer sounded as the ball ripped through the net and Pulaski County had won a game it seemingly was completely out of, 66-64.
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Luke Russell takes it hard down the lane as Cougars rally to beat Graham. (Brian Bishop/PC Patriot)

The Cougar had committed 17 often ugly turnovers in the first half. Graham had gotten up 31 shots to just 20 for PCHS because of the turnovers, but then there were only seven the second half, and in the middle of the third Graham decided to finish at a leisure pace. The Cougars kept pressing, kept pushing, kept playing hard, and things started to fall in place. The G-Men started to look stiff, started missing free throws, turning away shots from close to the basket, and went cold.

     Pulaski Co. got hot. Gray hit three, 3’s in the second half and scored 17 points. Peyton Blackburn hit two, 3’s and scored 13 second half points on the way to a team high 19, and suddenly the battle was on.
     The Cougars trimmed five points off the margin in the third quarter. Graham scored only eight in the fourth quarter, Pulaski Co. 24. A Gray drive cut the margin to single digits, 58-49, and two A.J. McCloud free throws cut it to seven, 58-51 with 4:40 left to play.
     The G-Men continued to swing the ball around their half of the court without really looking toward the basket, and the Cougars upped the pressure. Coach Tyler Cannoy kept rotating players to apply heat on the ball. McCloud hit a drive to cut the lead to 61-55, and then a big three off the right wing and the margin was down to three, 61-58 with 2:22 left. Graham missed six free throws in the fourth quarter. A Gray three with just 58:2 seconds left cut it to two, 63-61.  Graham was one of two at the line and McCloud fed Blackburn underneath and it was 64-63 with 38.2 left.
     David Graves was called for a turnover on Graham’s possession as the G-Men were having trouble keeping the ball out of trouble against a swarming Cougar defense. Down the court the Cougars came. Graham jammed the paint. Pulaski Co. looked inside a couple times, but time was running down. The ball went to Gray with six seconds left. He took a dribble toward the basket, but the defense closed on him. He quickly dribbled back outside the three-point arc. The time was gone. He had to let it fly. Swish! Pulaski County wins, 66-64 in dramatic fashion.
     Cannoy knew after the game his team had stolen one, but he was thrilled. His charges had won when it looked like there was no way they could. “We were in trouble, serious trouble. But Graham stopped too soon. They tried to put the game on cruise control. We kept playing as hard as we could. My team wasn’t ready to call if off yet.”
     Cannoy is still learning about his team, and trying to build consistency. That hasn’t happened yet, but his team plays hard all the time. He has great appreciation for that. “Our last game against Radford we committed 12 turnovers against a pressing team the entire game, and we turned it over 17 times tonight in the first half. I couldn’t believe it. But  boy I’m proud of my kids. It sure wasn’t always pretty, but we play hard. The team kept playing. This is a really great win for us,” said Cannoy.
     Blackburn got his 19 points on six of 11 shooting and five of eight free throws. Gray connected on six of 11 shots, three of them 3s, two of two free throws for his 17. McCloud finished with nine and all came in the fourth quarter rally. J.J. Gully got eight, Corvin Carter five, and Luke Russell, Brad Hudson, Nathan Swinney, and Clay Phillips all scored two each.
     Graves had a game high 22 for Graham, but the G-Men went away from him down the stretch when they tried to run the clock, and lost their rhythm. Danny Dales scored 12, Nick Owens 10, and Chance Dawson nine to lead the G-Men. Pulaski Co. hit 22 of 44 shots, 50 percent. Graham connected on 23 of 47, 48 percent. The Cougar junior varsity also w on 41-38.