As expected, Laney led early. As expected, the large, vocal home crowd got behind their No. 1 seeded Wildcats.
And as expected – at least in the mind of head coach Jerry Hunter – it all started to unravel in the second quarter.
Laney’s 78-51 win over Crawford County to open the Class AA boys basketball state tournament came only after what Hunter called a blessing.
“The one thing I saw is we responded,” he said. “It’s good to see that in the first round of the state playoffs. You don’t want to wait until the third or fourth round to see how your team responds. We were blessed and fortunate enough to face some adversity early and we responded.”
Though the Wildcats built a strong lead early, Shaquille Cook, Laney’s 6-foot-6 center picked up two fouls within the first 10 minutes and was forced to the bench the rest of the half.
Jammie West, the team’s other top offensive threat, scored eight of Laney’s first 10 points. But that just drew the full attention of Crawford County’s defense, which shut down the junior guard with a box-and-1.
The adversity evened out the playing field and allowed Crawford County to cut a 15-point second quarter deficit down to 36-28 by halftime.
That’s when Hunter got the response he was looking for.
“I just listened to what my coaches were telling me at halftime,” Cook said. “We came in with a mindset in the second half to get the ball to me, and I was ready.”
Cook scored the first six points of the third quarter and went on to tally 20 of his game-high 23 in the second half. The slender-bodied senior was nimble enough to move quickly up the floor and finish fastbreaks and powerful enough inside to grab offensive putbacks.
“We made it known that we were going to go through him. There was no second option. We felt as though they couldn’t stop us there,” Hunter said. “We didn’t initiate that in the first half, because our perimeter game was working.”
West led the team early from the perimeter and finished with 14 points, including four 3-pointers. Raheem Newton also had 14.
After Laney started the second half on a 12-0 run, Crawford County responded immediately with a 10-0 burst.
But the Wildcats hit 8 of 10 free throws in the second half and won the fourth quarter 20-12 to seal the win.
Trae Corbin lead Crawford County with 23 points on five 3-pointers.