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AJ Cowthran delivered two dunks along with a pair of 3-pointers during the Patriot varsity boys basketball team's first game of the regular season, helping the Pioneers hold back Forest Park by a 46-40 margin.
Patriot boys win opener 46-40
© Gainesville TimesThere never came a moment on Monday night in Nokesville when AJ Cowthran absolutely had to throw down a slam dunk.
It's not like Red Nation in the stands at the Patriot High School gymnasium needed any extra excuse to holler and stomp their feet.
After all, this is a group so committed to psyching out the opposition that baseball players Matt Bergquist, Nick Moore and Josh Morrison handed out newspapers to their fellow fans, stretched six rows deep behind the Forest Park bench, so they could pretend to read them during player introductions.
"We could get in their heads early," said Moore, "focusing on our team, not theirs."
But, hey, sometimes you've just got to give the fans what they want.
Cowthran delivered two dunks along with a pair of 3-pointers during the Patriot varsity boys basketball team's first game of the regular season, helping the Pioneers hold back Forest Park by a 46-40 margin.
"The dunk gets us hyped," said the junior guard, who scored a team-high 14 points on the night.
However, he also mentioned that Forest Park could respond to the dunks because his team as a whole needed to remember that "we've got to get back on (defense)" instead of celebrate with the fans.
With two of the team's offensive leaders, junior guard Libal Awl and senior captain EJ Baltimore, sidelined due to injury, Patriot needed everyone on the floor to consistently step up against the up-tempo Bruins offense.
In fact, Forest Park managed to come back from a 25-15 halftime deficit to take a 35-32 lead in the fourth quarter after the team consistently converted second- and third-chance opportunities thanks to offensive rebounding.
Listed at 6-feet, 10-inches, forward Colin Goss became the Bruins' most potent threat from anywhere inside the arc.
Seventeen of the team's 25 points in the second half came from Goss's touch as the sophomore collected 21 total points on the day, more than half of the visitors' total.
His reach became a big reason why Forest Park could mount a comeback in the first place.
What a review of the tape would show Patriot, however, is that the Bruins also out-hustled and out-maneuvered the Pioneers in pursuit of rebounds throughout the third quarter and into the fourth quarter.
That would explain how Forest Park doubled the Pioneers in scoring, 14 to 7, during the first eight minutes of the second half.
"The lesson is we've got to make the catch tougher," said head coach Daniel Nemerow.
It took a timely triple from Cowthran in front of the Patriot bench with 5:31 to go in regulation for Patriot to tie the game back up.
Patriot's ability to transition quickly from defense to offense and set up clear looks at the basket played a major role in what ultimately became a victory.
After Cowthran's second 3-pointer of the game, forward Bryce Lugent (6 points) hit a jumper from the right side of the key to put Patriot back up, forcing a Forest Park time out with 4:18 left on the clock.
Then, Lugent poked the ball out from the hands of one of the Forest Park players, allowing senior Terry Smith to grab the loose ball and chuck it up-court to Cowthran, who slammed it home.
Goss managed to respond twice, hitting a layup and two foul shots to tie the game again at 39-39.
Yet, for the final three minutes, the Pioneers kept the Bruins from scoring any other field goals and limited the Bruins to a single successful foul shot while putting up seven points of their own.
During a timeout with 1:22 to go in the game, his team leading 41-40, Nemerow told his players, "We don't have to score to win. We just have to hold on to the ball!"
Patriot by and large headed that advice, and senior guard-forward Hamed Ghafoori (7 points) even refused a wide-open shot just inside the final minute, opting to pass back outside of the arc instead.
However, just before he made that play, Ghafoori could not held but drain a pull-up jump-shot from inside the foul line that essentially iced the game at 43-40.
That forced Forest Park intro necessary fouling, allowing Cowthran and sophomore Isaiah Sharp (10 points) to hit three out of four attempts from the line while the six rows of Red Nation chanted, "Warm that bus! Warm that bus!"
Also on the night, senior guard Moby Hager (5 points) hit a first quarter 3-pointer and a deuce in the third quarter while Cory Leveige (4 points) sank a field goal and two foul shots in the first half.
Even without scoring, Smith still earned player of the game honors from his team for the way he conducted the offense at guard in lieu of Baltimore and Awl.
"He fits nicely in the role, leadership-wise," said Nemerow.
Patriot next faces West Springfield at Westfield High School home on Nov. 30 for the first match in the two-game Bulldog Tip Off tournament. Game time is set for 6 p.m.