ROCKY MOUNT —
BETHEL – The SouthWest Edgecombe Cougars and first-year head coach Anthony Burns were on the brink of loosing a positive season to some late season defeats, but they regrouped and got their things together Monday night. The fifth seeded Cougars went into the Eastern Plains Conference tournament as the underdogs to the fourth seed North Pitt Panthers.
The Cougars who had lost to the Panthers twice this season, had their minds set before the game that they weren't going to let the season slip away just yet. They played a remarkable game and defeated the Panthers 64-53. The Cougars advance to the semi-final round to play the Kinston Vikings, which are the top seed in the tournament and the No. 1 ranked team in the state tonight at 7:30 p.m.
"This win was very impressive because we came out and played hard the entire game," Burns said. "We stayed focused and executed the game plan. We just wanted this game bad and showed it on the court."
Burns was frustrated coming into the tournament, because his team hadn't played up to his expectations as of late. They finished the season on a two game win streak, but they couldn't execute his game plans in those games and showed a lack of focus. Two weeks ago before a game, he went over the game plan on Thursday in practice and the following day, they couldn't remember the plan before the game. Since then, he has his team refocused and playing some of their best ball all season.
"We had to take the pride and suck it up and say we were coming out here to win and we did," Burns said. "We fought the entire four quarters and came out on top."
Cougar senior captain Anthony Coley led the way with 21 points, 14 rebounds and seven blocked shots. Late in the game, Coley went up for a dunk and a Panther player under cut him and an intentional foul was called. Coley bounced back to his feet and hit nothing but net on both free throws. That turned the tide of the game.
"Anthony played a heck of a game," Burns said. " I told him before the game it was on his shoulders because he is our emotional leader."
Another senior captain, Javine Hinton, scored 19 points and grabbed 11 boards, while Fabrion Bandy and Jason Jones gave the Cougars some strong minutes and combined for 15 points and 10 boards.
"We came out and I gave them the green light to shot and we shot the ball well," Burns said. "We got ourselves in check and we finished the game strong."
The game was back and forth throughout the first three quarters, but in the fourth, the Cougars opened it up like a ball of fire and were hot from the floor. They used their transition offense to tire out the Panthers and pushed the ball up the floor at a fast pace and put together two big runs of 6-0 and 8-0 to take the win.