FOR THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
The SouthWest Edgecombe Cougars hard work this season has finally paid off for them. They earned the final spot in the NCHSAA 2-A state basketball playoffs as a wild card team Saturday when the brackets were released. They were awarded the 16th seed in the Mideast bracket and will travel to Jacksonville to play No. 1 seed Northside Jacksonville tonight at 7 p.m.
First-year head coach Anthony Burns was excited about getting into the playoffs, because he feels his 13-10 Cougars deserve the berth. He thinks that their early season performances helped earn them the berth.
"I am happy for my guys to make the playoffs," Burns said. "We have been through a lot this year and are deserving of it. It has taken a team effort."
The Cougars have played well in spurts this season under Burns. He installed a new style of offense where his team likes to get out and run. They use their defensive pressure to force their opponents to turn the ball and use transition to score on fast break opportunities.
The Cougars will have their work cut out for them against Northside, because they have a senior guard who can score the ball and dish it to his teammates. Jamal Parker is a 5 foot 10 inch guard who is averaging over points 20 per game. He also has 62 assist and 64 steals this season.
Northside, who is 23-3, is averaging 68 points per game and is only giving up 51 points per game. They are ranked 6th in the state in 2-A basketball.
Burns said he thinks his Cougars can play right with Northside. He thinks the Cougars possess more all around talent and have the ability to go in and stun the top seeded team.
"It is a good scenario for us," Burns said. "We have been in a lot of pressure games this year and have played in front of large crowds so I think we will be fine."
The Cougars started off the season like a ball of fire and then cooled down after winning the annual Edgecombe County Holiday tournament. The Cougars got back on track in the later part of the season after dropping five straight games in conference play. They ended the regular season with two consecutive wins and then ousted the North Pitt Panthers in the first round of the conference tournament.
In the semifinals of the tournament, the Cougars played up to Burns' expectations against the highly ranked Kinston Vikings, before eventually falling to them.
Burns was excited about the way his team played overall in their loss to Kinston. He said his players played a complete game and thought they handled it better the third time around against them. Burns felt like his team wasn't under any pressure and said that is why he believes they played consistent the entire game. The Cougars went cold from the field in the second half, which turned out to be their downfall.
Burns told his two seasoned veterans, Anthony Coley and Javine Hinton, that they needed to be the Cougars floor generals this year and guide them in the right direction. Both seniors have done just that. They have led their teammates in the right direction and the same way that Burns wanted to go. He wants to rebuild the program and turn it into a winning and competitive one.
Coley and Hinton are averaging double figures in scoring and are close to double figures in rebounding. They have been the Cougars achilles heel this year and have been a major asset on both ends of the floor on the boards.
Those two, along with the rest of the team will have to show up and have a repeat performance of Wednesday's game against Kinston, minus the cold shooting second half for them to have a chance to advance to the second round.
For the Cougars to be successful, they are going to haver to play their style of ball and play at their own tempo. If they get out in transition and score off of forced turnovers then they can possibly win. They have proven that this year after knocking off a couple of 3-A schools who made the playoffs and playing with Kinston.
Burns sees the excitement in his players eyes and knows that they want to go in and make a name for themselves.