It was strength of Atascadero versus the shooting of Arroyo Grande. The size of the Greyhounds versus the quickness of the Eagles.
On Wednesday night in Atascadero, in a game where the teams took turns holding the lead, the size and strength of Atascadero was just enough to beat Arroyo Grande, 46-42.
The only player on the court to possesses all four attributes — strength, shooting, size and quickness — was dressed in orange and white. Elijah Cooks, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound point-forward, ran the show and electrified the home crowd with 22 points, 14 rebounds and three steals.
“He takes on a lot of pressure of getting us into the offense, creating for other people. Just a lot of leadership,” Atascadero coach Fred Price said. “He has done a really good job.”
“I just felt like being bigger than them it was easier to attack,” said Cooks, a junior.
As impressive as his rebounds were over the smaller Arroyo Grande defenders, it was his steals at key points in the game that made the biggest impact.
With a minute to go before halftime, Cooks used his instincts to leave his man, get a steal and throw behind his back before throwing down a one-handed slam. A Marco Rojas jumper later and Atascadero had a 21-19 halftime lead.
Arroyo Grande wouldn’t have been that close if it wasn’t for the 3s.
Arroyo Grande’s Patrick Angle hit four-consecutive 3-point shots in the second quarter on the way to a 24-point night. Angle’s, and the rest of the Eagles, hot shooting gave Arroyo Grande (11-8, 3-3 PAC 8) a 34-32 lead going into the fourth quarter.
Then it was Cooks turn to shine again on another steal. Cook snatched a floating pass and took it the length of the court, before he tucked the ball behind his back for a reverse layup as Angle flew by. The basket made it 37-36 Greyhounds with six minutes to go.
“I just didn’t want to get the ball poked away so I just did the best I could to keep it away from him,” Cooks said.
Cooks’ only assist of the night was a big one; and dump pass to center Gabe Perry for a layup that broke the tie and put Atascadero up two with 33 seconds left.
“We were talking about making sure we got better angles,” Price said of setting up the play during a timeout. “(Trevor) Howell made a nice read, hit Elijah and his man was helping, and he made the nice feed to Gabe.”
“It was a good basketball play by Elijah,” said Perry, who finished with 10 points and five rebounds. “He won that game.”
Bradley Mickey’s attempt from three with nine seconds left on the Eagles ensuing possession missed wide right and it was Cooks who grabbed his final rebound of the night. He then hit both free throws to ice it, capping a 7-for-7 from the line. Cooks said his free throw shooting Wednesdaywas encouraging after struggling from the line in a win last week against San Luis Obispo.
“That’s all I did for four days was work on my free throws,” Cooks said. “I never wanted to have one of those slump nights again.”
“We made big plays we made free throws, we got passes into the bigs, Trevor (Howell) hit two big 3s, Marco did a nice job on Angle at the end because he was killing us,” Price said. “You could see tonight what the team is about.”
Lately the Greyhounds have been about close wins. Atascadero has won four games in a row, and its last three wins were by three points, four points, and three points, respectively.
“We don’t choke under pressure,” Cooks said. “We are a great team and we always play as a team.”
Atascadero (12-5, 4-2 PAC 8) will try to push its winning streak to five games at Pioneer Valley on Thursday.