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Cougars push state's second-ranked team, lose by 3 points

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WESTPORT — South Decatur coach Tom Black hopes his players look at more than the scoreboard after a 58-55 loss Thursday night to visiting Waldron, the No. 2-ranked Class A team.

“Our team needs to keep its head up and look at the big picture,” Black said. “This was a confidence booster and showed that we’re capable of playing a great team at a high level.”

Behind a 24-point performance from senior Byron Balser, South Decatur (11-5) played competitively the entire game against Waldron (18-0). “I’m happy with how I played and that I was able to help the team,” said Balser. “It would have felt much better if we’d won.”

South Decatur won the tip, and from the opening seconds the game was fast-paced and close.

The game was tied at halftime 28-all.

South Decatur came out in the second half with the same determination it showed in the second quarter. Balser scored 11 points in the third quarter as the Cougars outscored the Mohawks 18-14 for a 46-42 lead.

The teams traded baskets as the clock wound down in the fourth quarter.

Down by one point with 28 seconds remaining in the game, the Cougars worked for a shot at the win. But an unforced turnover gave the ball back to Waldron.

Balser immediately forced a jump ball with tough defense, and the possession went back to the Cougars. However, they missed a shot and put-back attempt. The rebound went to Waldron’s Cody Sullivan.

Following a foul and two free throws, the Cougars called a timeout while down three points with four seconds remaining. Sullivan again came through for Waldron, stealing the South Decatur inbound pass, allowing the clock to expire.

“Waldron had played a zone defense against us all game,” said South Decatur senior Cameron Agnew, who scored 16 points for the Cougars. “They switched to man-to-man at the end, and we didn’t pick it up and adjust.”

“Rebounding and defense were the two keys for us tonight,” Black said. “They outrebounded us the entire game. Defensively we did a decent job, but their bigs hurt us in the lane.”

The game could work as a motivational drive for the Cougars going into sectionals.

“If we take away a few mistakes late we were in a position to win,” Black said. “If we look at those things and not the scoreboard we can still grow as a team. If we play at this level and eliminate those mistakes we can be competitive and achieve our goal of winning sectional.”

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