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Cooper 59 Holy Cross 48
12/8/2012 - by Ryan Roberts
Collins' clutch shooting leads Jags

One week ago, senior AJ Collins was playing in the 5A football state championship game. Friday night, he was leading his team to a win on the hardwood, as Cooper used an impressive defensive performance and a 19 point showing from Collins to knock off Holy Cross 59-48 at Cooper High School.

"I was surprised how well AJ shot the ball tonight," said Cooper head coach Tim Sullivan. "I just told him welcome back."

After not playing in Cooper’s first two games and yesterday being just the first practice for Collins, it was indeed a coming out party to start off his senior campaign. Early on, though, it looked like Cooper would be in trouble as they struggled from the field and had to deal with hot shooting from the Indians.

Before the game even started, there were a few surprises as 6’8 Ohio commit, Tony Campbell and freshman Mikekale McClendon didn’t start for Holy Cross. Without those two on the floor, it left an opening for others to step up.

After jumping out to a 5-2 lead behind a Spencer Holland trey, Holy Cross would go on a 6-0 run behind a Blake Tiberi and Burt Pouncy three to take an 8-5 lead. This would be just the start of runs for both teams, however, as they traded three pointers on the next two possessions. Holland then hit his second three of the quarter to give him 6 points early on and tie the game at the 4-minute mark of the quarter. Holland would finish with 10 points.

"I just came out and started firing pretty much," said Holland, on his early hot shooting. "I’ve been preparing for this since freshman year. Coach always tell us ‘Next man up’ and it was just my turn to be ‘Next man up'."

Tiberi responded once again with a three to give the Indians the lead right back at 11-8 at the 2:11 mark. A free throw by Zach McNeil and runner in the lane by sophomore Colin Hathorn would tie the game once again at 11.

Enter Tony Campbell, who finished the game with 19 points.

Just minutes into the game after sitting the bench, Campbell got his scoring going with an 'and one' down low that resulted in a free throw and also the first foul on Cooper big man Lou Maniacci.

After coming off the bench, junior Aaron Morgan (also a football star) scored on a layup to make it 14-13 Holy Cross at the end of one quarter.

The second quarter would be a different story, though, as Holy Cross continued their hot shooting with a 13-5 run and Cooper struggled with consistency.

Senior Burt Pouncy got the scoring going for the Indians as he drained a three to give the Indians a 17-13 lead. Campbell then got a tip in to extend the lead to 5 but AJ Collins nailed a three to keep his team close at 19-16. This would be just the beginning for Collins, who also came off the bench.

With Holy Cross leading 27-18 after a Campbell lay up and Tiberi jumper in transition, Collins would start a personal 6-0 run. As time was winding down, Holy Cross turned the ball over with 2 seconds left in the half and a 27-20 lead. This proved costly for the Indians as Collins took the inbounds pass and hit a three from the top of the key at the buzzer to make it a 4 point game, 27-23, at the half and more importantly, start an eventual 18-2 run for the Jags.

"I just got back to practice yesterday and it was a little hard getting up and down the court," said Collins. "Coach told me to just do my thing and shoot it. It was a big momentum shifter at the half. Everybody was excited and we came out ready to go defensively in the third quarter."

The third quarter started with an AJ Collins trey to make it a one point game at 27-26. After a Campbell 'and one' that sent Maniacci to the bench with his third foul, Spencer Holland hit a three, Colin Hathorn added a free throw jumper, Collins hit two free throws, and it was 36-31 Cooper with 2:23 left in the third quarter.

Christian McClendon responded with a nice move to make it 36-33 but a Hathorn bucket over Campbell and Holy Cross turnover with 2.4 seconds left would once again leave the door wide open for Collins to make a big play. After driving down the near side of the court and getting to the baseline, Collins threw up a floater while falling out of bounds that would go in at the buzzer to send the Jags in to the 4th quarter up 7 at 40-33.

"I was just trying to get a shot up and it went in," said Collins.

Coach Sullivan was very pleased with the defensive effort of his team in the third quarter, giving up just 6 points.

"At the half all we talked about was defensively, getting stops. Holy Cross does a great job spreading you out with their zone. On defense we’ve got to get stops and rebound. Defensively, we locked them down in the third quarter."

The most impressive part of the third quarter was the fact that Cooper did it with their big man, Maniacci, sitting on the bench much of the time with three fouls.

"Our biggest thing that’s going to propel us this year is our depth," said Sullivan. "Our guys are unselfish and don’t care who gets the spotlight. We’ve got 9 or 10 guys we can put out there and not drop off much."

The fourth quarter was all about Louis Manniacci as he would score 9 points and also provide several big defensive plays to keep the Indians from making any sort of comeback.

The biggest series of them all came at the 4:01 mark when Maniacci got an 'and one' to extend the Cooper lead to 10 at 47-37, then after a Travis Gabbard bank three, scored over Tony Campbell once again to push the lead back to 9 and essentially stop any momentum Holy Cross had.

The Jags would get several more easy baskets and seal the deal at the free throw line. When the buzzer sounded, the Jags walked off the floor with a 59-48 win, improving their record to 2-1.

Despite the win, Tim Sullivan still felt there was room for improvement.

"Chemistry and learning, where to be and when to be there, is the biggest thing for us right now. Our offense will get better and we know that. Everybody understands their roles. Now we put things in the rear view mirror and try to get better day by day."

Expectations are still high though and Coach Sullivan knows that his team has the opportunity to be very good if they can continue to play defense the way they did tonight in the third quarter.

"Our goal is to untimately win a 9th region championship but to do that we have to win the 33rd district if we want to go and try to play on the floor at Rupp Arena. The days of being little Cooper and sneaking up on people are over. People know who you are now. The bar has been set and it’s going to be neat to see how our guys respond to that."

The Jags will be in action again Monday night in a big 33rd district seeding game against rival Conner at home. They will then travel to Campbell County the next night.

Holy Cross falls to 0-2 and will look to get their first win of the young season Saturday night at home against Lloyd, before traveling to Scott in a Kenton County rivalry game Tuesday night.

Scoring:

Cooper (2-1): Collins 19, Maniacci 13, Holland 10, McNeil 7, Hathorn 6, Morgan 4

Holy Cross (0-2): Campbell 19, Pouncy 10, Tiberi 8, C. McClendon 6, Gabbard 3, Knochleman 2
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