The final two points of Jalen Cherry's night were the most emphatic as his two-handed slam put the Cooper boys basketball team's bench into a frenzy and started the celebration early.
It was the cherry on top, the finishing touch and the exclamation point for Cooper's 54-41 victory against Wylie on Friday night at Cougar Gym.
"He's never dunked in a game, we give him hell about it all the time," Cooper coach Bryan Conover said. "Then he dunked it and I was like, Wow! He got it good, too. It wasn't like a my first dunk I grazed it over the rim. He two-handed it. I was so happy for him.
"Now he got that monkey off his back and no one can say anything now."
The Cougars (15-7 overall, 2-0 district) scored the first four points and after Wylie tied the game at 6, Cooper scored the next eight points to take a lead it wouldn't give up.
Every time the Bulldogs (14-12, 2-1) seemed to make a push, Cooper was there to answer with a run of its own.
"Credit them, they answered our runs when they needed to," Wylie coach Gregg Ruffin said. "Whether it was a big shot or a big rebound or a big defensive play, they did everything they needed to do to win. They took it to us tonight. There's nothing we can do but take this one and move on."
It happened twice in the second half. The first came as Wylie scored the first seven points of the third quarter to pull the Bulldogs within four points at 30-26. The Coogs answered with a 6-0 run to push the lead back to 10 points.
In the fourth quarter, Wylie's Isaiah Carrillo hit a 3-pointer with just under six minutes to play to again make it a four-point game. This time, it was an 8-0 run by Cooper to make it 48-36 and finish the game.
"The Carrillo kid hit the 3 to cut it to four, then we responded with six, eight straight to get the lead back out there," Conover said. "... We talk to our kids all the time, it's not easy. You can't just go out there and blow people out, they're going to make a run, it's OK. Just go back and do it again."
The game provided the type of atmosphere the Bulldogs need to learn to handle.
"That's what I told them, it's hard to go win on the road especially when you've got a crowd like this," Ruffin said. "They feed off that. The crowd starts getting loud, you make a big play and it goes crazy. That's hard to go against. We're learning that, but hopefully when they come to our place we can turn the tables on them.
"It was a good night, it was a fun experience, just wish we could have played a little bit better."
The victory came on the heels of Cooper having to postpone Tuesday's game against Lubbock Coronado due to not having enough players. The Cougars were shorthanded Friday, with point guard Andrew Gonzalez out, and suited up three JV players.
They all came together for a big win.
"It's been a long week," Conover said. "Since Monday, we've had five guys at practice and today we got three more back. We've just been shorthanded. I was worried about, even though the guys didn't have COVID, being sick and not playing for several days. Like Tristen Rau, he was out there dying, but he was giving guts. He was battling, Brekke's a monster, but he was giving it his all."
The Cougars were led by Cherry, Jaelyn Rivera and Colin Reed. The three have been key for Cooper all season long and feed off each other. Cherry had a game-high 19 points while Rivera added 16. Reed had nine points to go along with some added duties.
"Our kids are pretty unselfish," Conover said. "We always tell them, 'This game's not hard. The guy that keeps scoring the points, just throw him the ball. If he keeps making baskets, we just give him the ball.' It's been a lot of different guys. Colin did a great job tonight. He pretty much played point guard. We usually have Drew running the show. … I thought we were pretty balanced."
Wylie's Avery Brekke had to fight for every bit of the 18 points he scored. Kazion Brown made three 3-pointers to finish with 11 points.
"We know everybody's going to try to take Avery away," Ruffin said. "We've just got to get where we hit some shots, knock down some shots. Kazion hit three 3s tonight, so maybe that's going to get him going, he's a guy that we need to be able to count on. That defense right there, what they're trying to do, that's not the last time we're going to see that."
There isn't much time for the Cougars to enjoy their rivalry win as they faced Coronado on Saturday to make up Tuesday's game. But that's part of what it takes to repeat as district champions.
"I'm proud of our kids," Conover said. "We're down, but a little adversity is what makes a district champ. We've got to come out, fight through stuff, it's not going to be easy, play our game."
Even with the loss, the Bulldogs are in a good position in the district standings through three games. Wylie travels to Lubbock Monterey on Tuesday.
"We can still accomplish everything we want to accomplish," Ruffin said. "We've just got to learn from this game right here and make sure we don't let these kind of emotions take over. When you have a chance, you cut it to four and you have a chance to do something, you've got to take your best shot at that time. We're still young, we're still learning and we'll use this to prepare us moving further into district."
Jordan Hofeditz covers Abilene high schools and colleges, Big Country schools and other local sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jhofeditz. If you appreciate locally driven news, you can support local journalists with a digital subscription to ReporterNews.com.
Cooper 54, Wylie 41
Wylie 9 10 11 11—41
Cooper 14 16 9 15—54
WYLIE (14-12, 2-1) — Derrick Evans 1 0-0 2, KJ Long 0 1-2 1, Isaiah Carrillo 1 0-0 3, Dylan Jennings 1 0-0 2, Kazion Brown 4 0-1 11, Martin Marshall 2 0-0 4, Malachi Daniels 0 0-0 0, Mark Fakhoury 0 0-2 0, Avery Brekke 8 2-2 18, Harrison Heighten 0 0-0 0. Totals 17 3-7 41.
COOPER (15-7, 2-0) — Colin Reed 3 2-4 9, Jordan Willis 1 2-2 5, Jaelyn Rivera 6 4-4 16, Kam Gray 1 2-2 5, Tristen Rau 0 0-0 0, Jalen Cherry 8 1-2 19. Totals 19 11-14 54.
3-Point Goals — Wylie 4 (Carrillo 1, Brown 3); Cooper 5 (Reed 1, Willis 1, Gray 1, Cherry 2). Total Fouls — Wylie 12, Cooper 6. Fouled Out — None. Technical Fouls — None.
This article originally appeared on Abilene Reporter-News: Emphatic slam finishes off Cooper boys basketball's win against Wylie