A game-time decision dealing with injury, Roy Billups texted his head coach before the big crosstown rivalry game and said he was ready to go, and his coach told him, "we'll see, Roy, we'll see."
Billups recorded 13 points and hit a pair of clutch free throws with 40 seconds remaining in the game, fellow sophomore Preston Olney also connected from the foul stripe when it really counted, and the Coconino Panthers held off Troy Yazzie and the Flagstaff Eagles in round one of the rivalry on Friday.
"We showed great courage tonight," Panthers head coach Mike Moran said. "The kids were banged-up, injured, they have not been really practicing at all, and I am surprised they made it through that game."
Yazzie almost carried the 32nd-ranked Eagles on his back to a comeback victory, leading all scorers in Flagstaff's War Memorial Gymnasium with 24 points in the 51-44 loss.
"He's the smartest kid on the floor," Moran said of Yazzie, who scored six of Flagstaff's nine fourth-quarter points.
Flagstaff (2-7, 2-4 Grand Canyon Region) struggled with turnovers for much of the game, and No. 29 Coconino (4-4, 4-2 Grand Canyon) capitalized on them. The Panthers jumped ahead 14-7 on a 12-2 run that lasted four minutes in the opening quarter, forcing their opponent into making mistakes and drilling 3-pointers during an outburst from which the Eagles would not fully recover.
Jacob Begay started the first-quarter surge with a 3 to tie it at 5-all, and Brennan Motes followed with a three-point play stemmed off a FHS turnover. Motes led the Panthers with 14 points, and Begay finished with four.
Yazzie used his size as an advantage in the second quarter to will his team back into the game after being down as much as 11. The senior started a 7-2 Eagles run with an inside bucket over the much smaller Olney, as Marcus Crowther added a jump shot and Michael Becenti a 3 during the burst.
All of Yazzie's second-quarter points came in the paint, basically directly under the rim, and Flagstaff went into halftime trailing 27-21.
The final two minutes of the game saw Coconino playing damage control as it milked the clock, staying outside of the perimeter to force Flagstaff into making the decision to foul or not. The Eagles opted not to and Yazzie had the lone bucket of the final two minutes on a steal he turned into a coast-to-coast lay-in with one minute remaining to play.
Getting an inside shot from Motes and back-to-back strikes from beyond the arc from Billups, Coconino had its largest lead of the night, 35-23, to start the third quarter. But Flagstaff wouldn't go away and grinded back, including a shake-and-bake 3 from Becenti, who ended his night with six points on a pair of 3s that came during the middle quarters.
Walter Downs contributed five points for the Eagles, who were only down 39-35 heading into the final eight minutes.
Coconino finished 11 for 13 at the charity stripe, and Motes went 3 for 4 in the fourth from the line. Manuel Cardoza finished his night with six points for the Panthers, who snapped a two-game losing skid that was partially a result of the team trying to get healthy.
Flagstaff, meanwhile, was able to tie its crosstown rival in hitting 3s -- each team had five -- but finished 3 for 4 on free throws.
"Overall, we made the free throws down the stretch," Moran said.
Flagstaff, now on its own two-game skid, stays at home as part of a three-game homestand to host another challenge in No. 17 Saguaro, which has won five of its last six games. The Eagles tip off the 4A Conference meeting against the Sabercats Saturday at 3 p.m.
The Panthers don't get a break either to lick their wounds, hosting the No. 30 Marcos de Niza Padres for a 4 p.m. 4A game Saturday.