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Area Tourney Champs: Cougars use strong second half to top Evangel

By By Paul Keane
Publisher
Escambia Academy's varsity boys basketball team fought off a scrappy Evangel Christian team, 12 second half turnovers to break open a halftime deadlock en route to a 54-40 win at home Friday night.
The victory improved the Cougars to 22-4 on the year, but more importantly gave EA the 2A East Area 1 Tournament title, something head coach Chad Prewett says is crucial for future postseason success.
"This was big for us," he said. "Last year, we finished as the runner-up and it cost us in the regional tournament. We ended up playing a top seed and losing in the regionals."
The Cougars will now faced a as-yet-to-be-determined opponent in the AISA 2A Regional Tournament at Faulkner University in Montgomery. The winner of the 10:30 a.m. Friday contest will advance to the state Final Four.
EA shook off a fiesty Lions squad – which is in only its second year as a program – by outrebounding the visiting team down the stretch and causing some costly turnovers.
At halftime, Evangel held a 24-12 advantage in the rebounding department, but EA cut that margin to 35-34 by the end of the game. Evangel also had 16 turnovers in the first two quarters, then coughed it up 12 times in the final two periods.
"At halftime, we talked about rebounding," Prewett said. "I had us for about seven rebounds in the first half, and we told them that wasn't going to get the job done. We told them that we weren't going to have a chance to do much of anything if we didn't start rebounding the ball better.
"But this was a good all-around performance for us, and our intensity throughout the game was second to none. That's what helped us win tonight."
It appeared that the game was going to be a blowout in the early going, as three-pointers from Cody White and Bradford Price, combined with a jumper from Jace Beasley, gave the home team an 8-0 advantage wtih 5:32 left in the opening stanza.
After two quick timeouts, Evangel began whittling away at the deficit, closing it to 12-6 after Brandon Perdue's jumper at the 1:22 mark. Price then hit a jumper at the buzzer to make it 15-6 heading into the second quarter.
The next eight minutes was all Lions, though, as Evangel put together a quick 4-0 run to cut the margin to 15-10 before Prewett called for a timeout. The two teams then traded buckets, with Price scoring all five of Escambia's final five points, the final two coming on a jumper at the 2:22 mark that made it a 20-13 contest.
Chris Murphy hit a jumper and Josh Thornton added a three pointer to cut the margin to 20-18, then Perdue hit a shot at the buzzer to knot things up at 20-20 at the intermission.
Escambia came out hot in the second half as Cody White hit a trey to open up the scoring and Robert Hardy scored, making it 25-20 with 6:36 left. Midway through the period, the Cougars put together a 9-0 run, with Chris Moore and Cole Norton scoring four points each, to open up a 35-24 bulge. A three-pointer by Nick Jones and a runner with 36 seconds left by Beasley made it a 37-30 contest. A free throw by Beasley with six seconds left made it 38-30 heading into the final stanza.
Hardy and Moore hit jumpers to open the fourth quarter, making it a 42-30 contest, but Evangel cut the margin to 42-34 off a pair of field goals from Thornton. That would be as close as the Lions would get for the rest of the evening.
The Cougars put together a 10-0 run down the stretch, fueled by four points each from Price and David Daniel, to give the home team a 52-34 advantage. From there, the two teams basically traded basics and the celebrating began for the home team.