The Coppell boys basketball team doesn’t seem to mind having to play from behind.
The Cowboys, No. 13 in the latest Class 6A state poll by the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches, trailed Plano John Paul II, Amarillo and Frisco Reedy in the second half in each of their last three games.
But Coppell is a poised team. The Cowboys don’t get rattled in pressure situations. In fact, they thrive in them. In fact, it has worked in their favor. That was the case Friday morning as Coppell rallied for an 85-81 victory over Plano John Paul II in the Coppell Tip Off Classic.
Stanford signee Ryan Agarwal powered Coppell with 32 points. Senior Naz Brown chipped in 25 points in the Cowboys’ victory over the Cardinals. RJ Jones led John Paul with 25 points Liam McNeeley contributed 23 points.
It was Coppell’s second straight victory over a top-five ranked team in the state. John Paul is No. 2 in TAPPS Class 6A. On Thursday afternoon, Coppell grinded out a methodical 43-35 victory against UIL’s 5A No. 3 Amarillo.
The Golden Sandstorm tied the score at 35 on a putback by 6-foot-11 forward Cade Hornecker with 5:06 left in the game. Coppell took the lead for good just 15 seconds later. Devank Rane slipped a pass to Agarwal, who converted a dunk. Agarwal finished with 19 points.
And it wasn’t just on the offensive end where Agarwal stood out. He was given the responsibility of playing center and defending Golden Sandstorm taller players like Hornecker. Agarwal came up big late in the game with two blocks and several key rebounds as Amarillo was held to just two points in the fourth quarter.
"Ryan was challenged with the roster this year and we said that 'You need to be a big. You're going to have play the 5 and guard some bigger guys and we need you to defend better and rebound more,'" said Clint Schnell, Coppell head coach. "He stepped up to the challenge. He's an 'I'll what-it-takes kind of guy' to help us win a game. I'm not surprised. I think it's going to help him down the road when he goes off to college."
Tournaments like the Coppell Tip Off Classic has allowed the Cowboys to gauge their depth. Agarwal, Brown and Rane are the most experienced players on Coppell’s roster. But there are other players that have shown they are more than capable.
Senior Noel Berhe made three 3s in the second half of Coppell’s win over Amarillo and totaled eight points in a 72-69 win for Coppell earlier in the day against Frisco Reedy. One of the team’s younger players, sophomore Alex Tung, made a layup to give Coppell a three-point lead against Reedy with 1:08 left in the ballgame. Tung finished with 12 points.
“I've got a senior-laden team this year, but it's a lot of seniors and two sophomores that have never played varsity before,” Schnell said. “Just getting a senior like Noel to play varsity for the first time and getting Alex and Arhan Lapsiwala, who are sophomores, some varsity time is huge. We've got two more games tomorrow and we're going to have to play more guys deeper in our rotation. That's what tournaments are for. That's something that we missed last year by not having tournaments."
Coppell had its hands full with Reedy. The Lions unleashed a three-point barrage that proved tough at times to top. Reedy took a 13-point lead after an Elian Santana 3-pointer two minutes into the third quarter. The Lions made 11 3s in the game.
But with the game on the line, the Cowboys rode the hot hand of Agarwal and Brown in the fourth quarter. Agarwal and Brown combined for 18 of Coppell’s 25 points in the final eight minutes of play.
Brown’s presence on the court is a welcome sight for Coppell. He suffered a torn ACL in March and underwent surgery in April. Brown was cleared to return to practice two weeks ago. Schnell said there are no minute restrictions in place for Brown.
"It's obviously a positive to have a kid of his talent and leadership back in the program,” Schnell said. “But it's just a testament to the type of kid that he is and his character. He refused to not have a season. He refused to not have half of a season this year. He's clearly worked to get himself ready. That tells you what you need to know about that kid."
Trailing 72-69 with less than five seconds left, Reedy had a chance to tie the score and send the game into overtime. The Lions passed the ball to James Ambery in the right corner and he went in the air for a 3-point attempt. Ambery missed the shot but thought that he was fouled. No foul was called and the Cowboys (4-1) escaped with the three-point win.