Cole defeats Randolph in 26-3A opener
Jordyn Arnette stepped to the free throw line and calmly sank two free throws with 1.6 second left, icing a 64-60 Cole Cougars victory Friday over the previously undefeated Randolph Ro-Hawks in the District 26-3A opener for both squads.
Arnette, a junior who missed 12 games with a back injury, poured in 23 points and helped keep the Cougars (22-3, 1-0) at least a step ahead of Randolph all night.
“Coach asked, ‘Who wants to make free throws?’ and nobody else said anything so I stepped up,” Arnette said. “I just took my time and made them.”
The Ro-Hawks trailed by as much as 17 points in the second half before whittling away at the lead. After forging a 15-9 first-quarter lead, Cole outscored Randolph 8-1 to open the second quarter to take a 23-10 lead. Cole’s Silas Livingston rebounded a missed free throw and sank a short jumper with five seconds left that gave the Cougars a commanding 36-24 halftime lead.
Trailing 50-41 entering the final quarter, Randolph began to methodically chip away at the lead. Austin Nunez’s second basket of the final quarter cut the lead to 52-47. An A.J. Haines basket later cut the lead to four, at 54-50. Logan Bracamonte converted a three-point play with 1:40 to play to bring Randolph within three, 58-55.
Then Bracamonte’s three-pointer from deep in the corner sliced the Cole lead to 62-60 with 2.7 seconds to play and set the home court Ro-Hawk fans into a screaming frenzy.
But Arnette was fouled after fielding the ensuing inbounds pass and netted both free throws for the final 64-60 tally.
Cole coach Noe Cantu said this Army versus Air Force rivalry is never an easy win, and Friday’s game was no exception.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy and I think we just executed better right at the end,” Cantu said. “We got a lead and I think what really happened is, we began to play almost not to lose, rather than to win. You’ve got to play to win the game, and I think we were playing not to lose for a little bit.”
Early on, Randolph had no answer for a stiff Cole defense, anchored inside by 6-foot-10 freshman center Vincent Iwuchukwu. His presence forced Randolph shooters to alter their drives to the basket and kept the Ro-Hawks off the offensive boards for most of the night.
Randolph coach Tim Gendron said his squad had to manufacture points in the face of the stiff Cole defense.
“Against a good disciplined, talented team like Cole, with the big guy like that inside to take away a lot of your inside offense, you have to find ways to get them to be able to execute and to be more aggressive,” Gendron said. “We showed a lot of showed a lot of character, heart and fight to come back like we did.”
Cole blanketed Bracamonte early, limiting his touches and keeping him away from the hoop. He missed his first three shots and has just two points at halftime.
“Yes, 24 points was one of our season lows for a halftime. I give credit to coach Cantu and his kids, they put together a good defensive plan and tried not to let Logan Bracamonte touch the ball,” Gendron said. “But Jordyn Arnette, he was the difference, he was the dagger in the heart so many times out there tonight.”
Nunez led Randolph with 21 points. Bracamonte came on late for 13, his final three baskets being three-pointers at key moments, while Haines added 12. Arnette led Cole with 23 while Iwuchukwu added 11 and three players tallied eight each.
After hosting Comfort on Tuesday, the Ro-Hawks travel to face Gervin Academy Friday before a key Jan. 22 home affair with the Marion Bulldogs. The Ro-Hawks get their shot to avenge the Cole loss when they travel to face the Cougars on Jan. 29.