By Tommy Keeler Jr.
QUICKSBURG -- There's no question Travis Cooper was able to sleep a lot easier Saturday night than he did on Friday night.
The Central junior bounced back from a poor free-throw shooting night on Friday with a strong performance at the line Saturday to help the Falcons to a 66-56 win over Stonewall Jackson in nondistrict boys basketball action.
In Friday's 80-79 overtime loss to Madison County, Cooper missed a few free throws and said he really wanted to make up for it against the Generals. And he did just that. Cooper went 16-for-20 from the line for the game, including 11 for 14 in the fourth quarter.
"[Friday] night was not pretty," Cooper said. "I could barely sleep [Friday] night thinking about missing foul shots. [Saturday] I wanted to just make it all better and just try my hardest to do everything right."
Cooper and his teammates did a lot of things right in the second half after trailing by as many as nine points in the first half.
Central (5-10, 2-7 Bull Run) cut the lead to 33-32 at the half, but didn't lead at all in the opening half. In the second half the Falcons focused on going inside to senior Brandon Ritter and it paid off for Central.
Ritter scored six points during an 11-2 to start the second half and take a 43-35 lead with 4:43 left in the third quarter.
"I told them I wanted the ball to go inside to Brandon Ritter," Central coach Mickey Clinedinst said. "He did a great job inside for us. I think that caused some foul trouble issues for them."
The Generals (6-9, 4-5 Shenandoah) bounced back with a run of their own. Stonewall Jackson junior Colton Harlow scored five points to spark a 9-2 spurt and cut the lead to 45-44 with 1:12 left in the third quarter.
The two teams went back and forth to start the fourth quarter until back-to-back baskets by Stonewall Jackson's Matt Litten and Harlow tied the game at 53-53 with 3:45 left in the game.
Cooper then took over at the foul line. He scored eight of Central's points during a game-sealing 10-0 run, all of which came at the foul line.
"A good team's going to hit their free throws and they did," Stonewall Jackson coach Patrick Smoot said. "They hit their foul shots and they got their opportunities to do that."
Central was 29 for 37 from the free-throw line for the game, including 15 for 18 in the fourth quarter, just one night after going 14 for 30 from the line.
"Free-throw shooting is huge," Cooper said. "We've won games from the free-throw line and we've lost several games this year from the free-throw line. People don't realize how big free throws really are, but when it comes down to it free throws decide a lot of basketball games."
Harlow led the Generals with 22 points. Stonewall Jackson had eight of its nine players score.
The young Generals squad has improved a lot since last year's one-win team, and Smoot said he believes the team can still have plenty of success this season.
"Day in and day out we've got to get our kids to come in here and push and work hard, and make sure that we give the same type of intensity, learn to play with that intensity for four quarters," Smoot said. "If we can do that we're going to be a tough team. We've got to get our guys hitting some shots. After we match our offense with our defense we could be a dangerous team come tournament time, and for the rest of the way through this district schedule."
Cooper had a game-high 26 points for the Falcons, and Ritter had a career-high 24 points. Hayden Bauserman added 10 points for the Falcons.
The Falcons entered the game having lost eight of their last nine, but most of them were very close games. Cooper said he believes the team is ready to turn their season around.
"We've been struggling a bit lately, but our hustle and our [desire] to win has been getting a lot better," Cooper said. "I think our next couple games are going to show it, and we're going to come out with wins."
Contact assistant sports editor Tommy Keeler Jr. at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or email@example.com