East survives frenetic battle with Heights
For 32 straight minutes on Tuesday night, Heights and East played in a such a blur that neither side could recall how they had arrived at such a bizarre ending.
After 32 straight dizzying minutes, it was poetic that the conclusion was decided at a complete standstill, with Heights senior Ealy Bell alone on the court 15 feet from the basket at the foul line with two chances to determine each team’s fate with no time on the clock.
For a few brief moments, calm rushed into the East gymnasium. Then Bell’s first attempt swirled off the rim and his second was long, igniting the crowd into a pandemonium deserving of such a finish.
East had won 58-57, somehow, and maintained its undefeated record (4-0) and its spot atop the City League standings.
“It was scary,” East’s Zach Jackson said of watching Bell decide each team’s fate. “You’ve got to hope because you can’t do nothing about it. All we could do is watch and see what he does.”
How the Falcons even had an opportunity to win was strange. East had possession and a 5-point lead with 60 seconds left, typically a desirable spot for a team looking to close out a game.
Instead, the Blue Aces created their own drama by turning the ball over twice and missing the front-end of all three of their 1-and-1 attempts to keep Heights alive.
After Chris Lowe’s floater scored and East’s Isaac Fralin missed a free throw with 13 seconds, Heights sent a disorganized attack at the rim without a timeout. Davon Gill’s wild attempt missed, but Heights was rewarded the ball out of bounds underneath its goal with 0.9 seconds left.
Heights coach Joe Auer designed a last-second play, having Bell play coy like he was setting a screen only to flash underneath the basket and Arie Johnson delivered the pass that led to Bell being fouled with no time remaining.
“We couldn’t have executed any better,” Auer said. “That’s exactly what we wanted and who we wanted. Ealy is our guy. He’ll be fine. He wants the ball right back in that situation again.”
It put a damper on an impressive statement by Heights, a team now 3-1 that proved it will be in the thick of the City League race by causing East fits on its home court.
East finished the game with 22 turnovers, 20 of which were directly forced by Heights, and never found its rhythm offensively because of an aggressive, trapping zone employed by Auer.
But the Blue Aces survived because of multiple efforts at different parts of the game. Xavier Kelly was a constant source of offense, going 9-for-9 with a game-high 18 points; Zach Jackson took control in the second half, where he scored 12 of his 15 points; and Traevon McGairty (10 points, eight rebounds) and Tyas Martin (nine points) scored East’s final two buckets.
“I just didn’t want to lose,” Jackson said of his mentality in the second half. “All I could think about was not wanting to lose. We had to put points up.”
Heights was led by its trio of guards in Semaj Hervey (14 points, seven steals), Ealy Bell (15 points) and Chris Lowe (10 points).
Even if it is mid-December, the importance of defending home court against a quality team was not lost afterward on East’s coach Joe Jackson, who is in search of winning the Blue Aces’ first crown since 2007.
“We hope to be a top contender for the City League and this was a big win for us and the City League race,” Jackson said. “This one was big.”
But it was Auer that summed it up best about the race that is shaping up between East (4-0), Southeast (3-0), and Heights (3-1).
“It’s going to be an exciting season in the City League,” Auer said with excitement.
HEIGHTS: Hervey 6 2-2 14, Bell 7 1-4 15, Johnson 0 0-0 0, Gill 3 0-0 6, Ellis 3 0-0 6, King 1 3-6 6, Wilbeck 0 0-0 0, Lowe 5 0-1 10.
EAST: Caw 0 0-1 0, Martin 4 1-2 9, Jackson 6 3-5 15, McGairty 5 0-1 10, Kelly 9-9 0-0 18, Champion 0 0-0 0, Fralin 1 0-2 2, Mutazammil 2 0-0 4.