FALKNER TURNS UP DEFENSE TO STOP DEFENDING 1A CHAMPS
By Mike Talbert
JACKSON The Falkner Eagles were the newcomers, but for much of the game their hard pressure defense had the defending Class 1A champion Durant Tigers flustered.
Still the Tigers had enough poise to nearly come back, but they couldn’t get the shots to fall and Falkner won 66-63.
“We haven’t been here in 23 years. Just being here is big for us,” Falkner coach Tim Leatherwood said. “This is a big win for us. The kids did a great job.”
Point guard Isaiah Simmons, who repeatedly made clutch shots, scoring 21 points, including a pair of free throws with 47 seconds left that were the clinching points for Falkner.
“Simmons ran the show tonight,” Leatherwood said, “but I think the story of the game was our pressure defense. That is what got us the lead, and we hung in there and won it.”
Edward Prather led the scoring with 22 points and his brother Bradley Prather added 18 to go along with 16 rebounds as he won an inside war with Durant’s Torry Potee. Potee had 15 points and 11 rebounds.
Willie Ellis scored 17 points and Terry Large 11 for Durant.
“Bradley is our team leader; the other four players play better when Bradley is out there,” Leatherwood said.
The Falkner Eagles (22-9) are making their first appearance in a state tournament since 1973, while Durant (22-7) was playing to extend its string of three state championships.
“We came a lot farther than we expected,” Durant coach Danny Robertson said. “We lost to a great team.”
Just when Durant looked like it was going to put Falkner away early with a 10-point run to take a 16-6 lead, Falkner started charging back into the game, thanks a lot to the free throw line.
The Eagles were 12-of-18 from the time that Bradley Prather completed a three-point play until Simmons drove the lane for back-to-back layups to give the Eagles a 31-28 halftime lead.
“We were scared and tight as could be at first, but when we loosened up, we showed we could play with them,” Leatherwood said.
However Durant needed just two shots to regain the lead 33-31 on a Terry Large 3-pointer 35 seconds into the second half.
There were two lead changes and four ties with the third quarter, which ended in a 44-44 tie.
The Eagles started the fourth period with an eigh-point run ending on a Bradley Prather putback with 7 minutes left with Falkner up 52-44.
“The first three minutes of the last quarter are the most important part of the game. We were able to get a lead and hang on,” Leatherwood said.
Durant was never able to get closer than two points after that, though the Tigers had the ball with a shot to lead or tie several times.
Falkner faces South 1A champion Mount Olive in a semifinal game at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday.