This past Friday, January 27th, the Central Falcons defeated the Paul W. Bryant Stampede 59-56. The Falcons were led by forwards King Larkin (19 points) and Javion Taylor (17 points). Adrian Wooley led the Stampede with 18 points, and JJ Crawford finished with 10. When these two teams meet, regardless of the season, there is usually a high level of competition, entertainment, and occasional chirpiness. All of those expectations were met and exceeded by this game.

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This game lived up to the rivalry's history. Central had success getting to the rim and generating fouls against the Stampede. Bryant took the lead in the opening frame with 18 points, but Central adjusted and the Stampede was held to just seven points at the break.

With their full-court press, Central was able to frustrate Bryant. With players like Wooley, Crawford, and Spiros Gasteratos, the Stampede are not short on ball handlers. Despite this, Central was able to force many turnovers and slow down their pace of play. Bryant enjoys playing fast and using its athleticism to get to the rim, allowing Wooley and Crawford to create their own shots. Central limited Wooley to six points in the first half and Crawford to eight. By halftime, the Stampede had scored only 25 points to Central's 30.

More of the same continued throughout the second half. It was back and forth between the two teams, Central responded every time Bryant had an answer or reduced the lead. The Falcons led by five points entering the fourth quarter, and this is where things became interesting. With four minutes remaining, Bryant knotted the game on a three-point shot by junior Kingston Williams.

Larkin, who dominated the painted area throughout the game, would respond with another easy bucket in the paint. Central's prowess inside the paint was aided by Bryant forward Marquis Nash's foul trouble. With the 6-foot-7 big man out, the Falcons had an easier time getting to the hoop, while the Stampede struggled to defend and rebound at the rim.

Bryant had a late-game opportunity to tie the game after Taylor fouled out and sent Wooley to the free-throw line. Wooley, though, missed both free throws, and the Falcons maintained their lead. With 4.7 seconds remaining in the game, Bryant sent Larkin to the free-throw line. He hit one of two free throws to make it a three-point game.

The Stampede had to go the length of the court, and with three seconds remaining, Wooley heaved a prayer shot that was not successful. With the victory, Central guarantees itself the second seed in the Area-6 tournament.

"I credited my players because they really focused in and executed well," Central Head Coach Willie Moore said of his team's victory. "We've been talking about focus and toughness the last couple of weeks, and I think we're on the right direction to take care of that business."

Larkin was able to find success in the game by grabbing offensive rebounds, becoming a fantastic pick-and-roll player, and causing Nash to foul out. Late in the game, he scored four straight points to extend their lead to two possessions.

"He's really growing up; he's going to continue to be a great player for us," Moore said of Larkins' 19-point performance. "We had to get him inside whether there was a zone or not. We kept giving him the ball, and he kept scoring, which helped us win the game."

Moore discussed his team's ability to neutralize Wooley and Crawford. "We made it tough for them. We played defense like we were capable of, and we had to make sure we got physical with the big guy [Nash] and did what we needed to do."

Both teams have a couple more games before the tournament. Central will host the Sulligent Blue Devils on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. For Paul Bryant, the group will play Sipsey Valley at home on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.

Central vs Paul Bryant

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