Cousins took the back-door bounce pass from Sherae Bonner in the lane and laid it in for her team-high 15th and 16th points on the night to put the Lady Lions (12-4, 5-0 Region 4-AAA) back up by two. The sophomore played most of the fourth quarter with four fouls and pulled down 14 boards for the double-double.
"The thing about Bri is she's so silent, but she's so there. She's rock-solid, she's steady and she's very competitive. There's a fire burning in her. If you look deep in her eyes, like at the end of the game there, there's no question it's burning inside her. She just quietly goes about double-doubles, and I'm good with that," Central coach Jimmy LeBlanc said.
After a slow start to the game, Central set the pace in the second quarter, outscoring Chapel Hill, 15-6, for a seven-point halftime advantage. The third quarter was more of the same, but the Lady Panthers (12-3, 4-1) came fighting back in the fourth.
Chapel Hill tied things up at 43-all with 2:14 left in the game, but were never able to stop the Lady Lions enough to take a lead. With one last chance to tie in the final seconds, it was Cousins coming up with the defense again. As the Lady Panthers just kept chipping away at the lead, it might have caused some tense moments on the bench, and that's the kind of competition LeBlanc wants his team to see and get used to playing.
"I tell you, we've played such a wide gambit of competition, and I've watched [Chapel Hill] play others and just take them apart. I was really worried about their pressure, and it was a big test for us. That's the kind of competition we've been used to in the past. Just an awesome game. Take away free throws, my gosh, we won and we shot 5-of-23. That's just huge," LeBlanc said. "I'm glad for competition like Chapel Hill, because it helps you discover who you are and I'm really proud of our girls."
The Lady Lions already have a short bench, but playing without guard Jasmine Thrash meant LeBlanc just had eight bodies to go to and rotated seven players in, but it was the starters doing most of the work. Hayley Sims played the whole 32 minutes, while Wesli Simmons played 31, Bonner played 30 and Cousins added 29 minutes.
"You're afraid of that. I have every bit of confidence in the ones that are [on the bench] that are ready to go in. I think sometimes it's very important to put people in positions where they can succeed. We pick and choose where we need to use folks. Our intention was to use more, but the pace of the game with us being able to play halfcourt on defense, we were able to just use timeouts to stay fresh," LeBlanc said.
Along with Cousins' big night, Simmons added 14 points for the Lady Lions, while Bonner also had a double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds.
Now Central is alone on top of the region standings, but it will still see Chapel Hill one more time and have to take care of business against the rest of the competition. That starts Tuesday with a trip to Callaway.
"You haven't done anything, but you've got the leg up the first time. We have to go to [Chapel Hill], which is going to be very difficult to play there. You've still got a tournament to look forward to — I think in our region it's important to be one or two the way the brackets line up. I've seen Callaway play, I've seen Jackson play and this is far from over," LeBlanc said. "We're not even through the region one time, and this is far from over. Any one of these teams could see the target on the back and come get you any night."
Central boys 68, Chapel Hill 44: The Lions (9-6, 4-1) used a 21-point second quarter, capped by a Blake Reese bank-shot 3-pointer at the buzzer, to defeat the Panthers in a bounce-back win.
It took some time for the Central offense and defense to get going in the game, but once the team settled down, it was all systems go.
"Tight first quarter. We were trying to find something we could settle down in defensively. We tried a zone and we weren't necessarily moving our feet, then we went to man and found we could get some stops. Once we did that, we settled down into our man-to-man defense, had great help-side defense all night long and were able to force some steals," Central coach Darius Smiley said.
The win was especially important following a disappointing one-point loss to Rockmart on Friday. Smiley said Saturday was all about making the corrections so games like Friday's wouldn't happen again. The Lions showed they were paying attention with their performance on Saturday night.
"We came in [Saturday] morning for a shoot-around and we talked about the reasons why we lost that game. And it wasn't because we didn't make lay-ups at the end of the game. We were 13-for-27 from the free-throw line, we gave them 21 offensive rebounds and we had 20 turnovers. That's a recipe for a loss," Smiley said. "Then we buried that loss and the focus was on Chapel Hill. I thought they did a magnificent job bouncing back and getting the win."
Justis Ward was a big part of the game-changing second quarter, as the senior went into the halftime break with a double-double and finished with 17 points and 13 rebounds. Fellow senior Blake Reese led the Lions with 21 points to go with seven boards while Elijah Ross scored nine and Kahlil Wynn chipped in with eight points and six assists.
With the senior class consisting of Ward, Reese, Wynn, Trey Relthford, Shaq Allen and Stephon O'Neal, it makes Smiley's job just a little bit easier.
"All of our seniors are important to us," Smiley said. "They've all bought in. They realize this is their last go-around, so they're laying everything out on the floor. When you have a senior class that buys in like that and is able to show that kind of leadership, the rest of the team is going to follow suit. I thought [Saturday Justis] did a good job of letting the game come to him and he was able to provide us with some offense."
For Chapel Hill (1-14, 1-4), it was Jamarius Turner leading the way with 18 points and Efe Balfour adding eight in the loss.
Up next, the Lions will have to prepare for another game like Friday as they continue region play on the road at Callaway on Tuesday evening.
"It's going to be a barnburner. I don't expect for us to go into Callaway and it be a game like it was [Saturday]. I expect it to be something similar to Rockmart, because they're athletic, they're going to play defense and they're going to do what they do and we have to be prepared to come out and play basketball. We're looking forward to the opportunity," Smiley said.