By Ian Kayanja
CEDAR HILL — The final buzzer may have ended Tuesday’s game, but a crippling second- and third-quarter offensive onslaught by Jo Byrns ended Culleoka’s season much earlier.
“I guess it was just one of those nights where the shots weren’t falling,” Warriors coach Mike Lovett said following a 65-39 defeat in the Region 5-A semifinal contest. “We got more layups in the first and fourth quarter, and we just couldn’t get in the same looks in the second and third quarter.”
The hosts used a blistering 19-6 second quarter to virtually put a previously close game away by halftime.
“The first quarter was slow for us because shots weren’t falling,” Jo Byrns coach Jojo Northington said. “In the second and third quarter our shots started falling and the box-and-one they were running (defensively) didn’t affect us too much. And that is what basketball is about. You just got to keep playing, and things will fall in place like they did for us.”
The game opened up with a methodical first quarter. Neither team managed to grab the momentum from the other, and there were visible nerves as each team made early mistakes. By the end of one, Culleoka held a 9-7 advantage.
“In the first quarter we outscored them and we were just knocking down shots,” Lovett said. “We got more post feeds, we attacked, and got layups in that first quarter.”
At the four-minute mark of the second quarter, Culleoka led by one 15-14. The Warriors were playing their brand of basketball — slow, drawn-out and focused. Lovett described it as “sticking to the gameplan.”
However, that would not last as Jo Byrns held Culleoka scoreless for the final three minutes of the quarter. The Red Devils put together a 12-0 run that sent their crowd into a frenzy. By the half, the Culleoka lead flipped to an 11-point deficit, 26-15.
The rest of the game felt like a mere formality as the Warriors were outscored 21-14 in the third quarter and 18-10 in the fourth quarter.
Culleoka senior forward Cooper Parks finished with a game-high 18 points. Parks was the Warriors’ only double-digit scorer on the night.
Jayden Caira, the focal point of Culleoka’s defensive effort, scored 17 points — 11 during the hosts’ second- and third-quarter offensive blitz — to lead Jo Byrns.
“My focus was to get on the break and steal a few buckets,” Caira said. “They were box-and-oneing me, so it made it hard to run our regular offense.”
For Lovett and his team, the loss is bittersweet. He is losing a group of four seniors — Parks, Landon Andrews (held scoreless for the game), Blake Delk and Chris Hutcherson — that have helped him rebuild the program during their time at Culleoka, going from a three-win team to a regional semifinal over the course of four years.
“I have four seniors who will never play here again, so I made sure they knew what they accomplished here,” Lovett said. “To the rest of the team, this is a hump that we haven’t been able to get over the last two years, so coming into next year we have to get over this hump.”
In Jo Byrns’ case, the team and coach Northington just want one more win as they move on to Thursday’s region final against visiting Richland, a 62-27 winner Tuesday over Houston County.
“One more, that is our mentality,” he said. “We want to show everyone that we are better, so we are going to continue to compete.”
Jo Byrns boys 65, Culleoka 39
C 9 6 14 10 — 39
J 7 19 21 18 — 65
Culleoka (39) — Cooper Parks 18, Tavon Bagsby 9, Erik Mick 4, Hunter Harris 4, Chris Hutcherson 4
Jo Byrns (65) — Jayden Caira 17, Ryan Dowlen 14, Bryce Cox 10, Taylor Head 9, Logan Head 7, Kenny Tolliver 5, Dylan Dotson 3
3-pointers — Culleoka 1 (Bagsby), Jo Byrns 8 (Caira, Dowlen 4, T. Head, L. Head, Dotson)