K.J. Liggins

Coppell senior K.J. Liggins passes the ball during Tuesday’s non-district game against Highland Park.

For the first four minutes of Tuesday’s game, it appeared that Highland Park, No. 11 in Class 5A by the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches, was going to run the Coppell boys basketball team out of its own gym.

Highland Park used good spacing to make three straight 3-pointers to build a 10-point lead and the Scots’ defense clogged up the driving lanes to prevent the Cowboys from attacking the basket.

All it took for Coppell to turn things around was a more aggressive approach.

Senior Naz Brown scored 16 of his 20 points during the second half and the Cowboys forced the Scots to commit 11 turnovers over the final two quarters as Coppell overcame a sluggish start on both ends of the court to rally for a 67-52 victory against Highland Park.

Highland Park (3-4) dictated play at the onset, using a selfless, methodical style of basketball to gain the upper hand.

Scots senior Worthey Wiles sandwiched a pair of 3-pointers around a trey by Luke Hardenberg to take a 14-4 lead with 3:48 left in the first quarter.

“What they do really well is space the floor, move the ball, they’re unselfish with each other,” said Clint Schnell, Coppell head coach. “You could tell that they have great chemistry. Early in the game, we were kind of passive in our defense and let them do what they wanted to do offensively. I thought coming out in the second quarter and in the second half, we did a much better job of being aggressive and forcing the issue on the offensive end and forcing some things that they weren’t comfortable doing.”

Coppell (6-2) proceeded to speed up the tempo in the second quarter and got closer looks at the basket as a result.

Junior Anthony Black found himself all alone at the rim after a steal and subsequent one-handed dunk to cut the Scots’ lead to 28-25 with 1:10 left in the first half.

After a free throw by Highland Park, Coppell junior Ryan Agarwal made a 3-pointer against a Scot defender who had lost his shoe to cut the deficit to 29-28 going into the locker room at halftime.

Agarwal led all scorers with 22 points before fouling out in the fourth quarter. Black also hit double figures with 14 points, including an alley-oop dunk on a lob pass from Agarwal with less than three minutes left in the ballgame to give the Cowboys a commanding 61-48 lead.

Black’s dunk was the punctuation of a strong second half by Coppell – and it all started on defense.

The Cowboys brought an extra defender toward the ball to create added pressure on the Scots’ ball handlers. That strategy paid off in spades. Coppell forced six turnovers within a four-minute span in the third quarter to assume control of the game.

“It’s kind of the style of the man defense that we play,” Schnell said. “I tell the guys that it’s five guys guarding the ball. You’re aware of where the ball is. No matter if you’re one pass or two passes away from the ball, you’re helping on the ball. At halftime, we kind of re-emphasized that. I said that we can take away some of these drive lanes and passing lanes if you guys get back to helping, and we did a much better job of that.”

Highland Park made the first two field goals of the third quarter to push its lead to six points, but Coppell rallied to take its first lead of the game at 38-37 on a 3-pointer by Brown with exactly three minutes left in the frame.

Coppell didn’t take its foot off the gas.

Brown sank four straight free throws within a 34-second span late in the fourth quarter to give the Cowboys their largest advantage at 67-50, also punctuating a strong second-half performance on both ends of the court by the Coppell senior.

“My teammates were telling me to be aggressive as I can, especially on the defensive end,” Brown said. “Transition is what we did the best in.”

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