Less than two minutes went by in No. 10 Eastside’s Friday night game at Luella before Keiodre Perry started marking his territory.
After Perry scored buckets on back-to-back Eastside possessions — one of them, a nifty pump fake that got two Luella players in the air, followed by a fall away rainbow jump shot — Perry could be heard chatting with a couple of Luella players on the way back to the other end of the court.
“This is my gym tonight,” Perry said with a wry smile. “It’s our gym.”
Turns out he wasn’t far off.
Eastside shook off a slow start on the way to defeating Luella 73-57, thanks in large part to Perry’s 19 points, eight rebounds and six assists in just three quarters of play.
That’s because by the time the middle of the third quarter came, Eastside had stretched its lead to as much as 35 points, and it all started with a 17-2 blitz run toward the end of the second quarter that helped Eastside take a 48-26 advantage into halftime.
From there, it was sharp shooting from Dez Dyer who chipped in with 12 points and sophomore Jerry Mays, senior Tyquavius Bush and junior Adrien Powell who combined for 23 points that helped the Eagles (7-1, 4-0 in Region 4-AAAA) coast to the easy win.
By the time the shortened fourth quarter began, the starters were sitting the bench laughing and joking with each other while cheering on the reserves who got in valuable playing time.
It was a game that coach Brent Wren called a microcosm of the kind of season Eastside’s had so far.
“This team is just a fun team to coach,” Wren said. “They’re self starters. They’re self-motivated. I don’t have to spend a whole lot of time doing a lot to get them going. They’ve really brought the fun back into the game for me.”
Of course it’s always more fun when you’re winning. Eastside cracked the Class AAAA top 10 rankings this past week after wins over Druid Hills and Woodward Academy. They validated that ranking after knocking off No. 6 Henry County — a preseason No. 1 in Class AAAA — 78-71 this past Tuesday.
Now, with a new cast of players bringing momentum with several holiday tournaments looming for Wren’s bunch, he said he doesn’t expect to see much drop off, based on what the team has showed him thus far.
“It’s just a much different squad we have now,” he said. “When you look at it, yes, we lost some very talented players from last season. But I think it’s turned into a little addition by subtraction for us, because when those other guys left, it immediately put a fire in the belly of guys like Dez and Jerry to want to step up and be great players for us, and they’ve done that.”
Dyer’s improvement has been most notable. The 6-foot-3 senior averaged just a shade over 10 points per game last season. But coming into the Luella game, he was right at 17.7 points and 11.5 rebounds per game. At that to Perry’s 24 points, eight boards and four assists per contest, and you have a more than formidable duo.
Instead of having a “big three,” so to speak, the Eagles top two players get plenty of help from Bush, Powell and sophomore Torrie Crawford. It’s the kind of team ball approach Wren said he’s longed for. And he’s looking forward to seeing the bond strengthen during holiday tournament season.
Eastside will travel to play in the Jones County Holiday Tournament on December 19-21, then will play Stephenson and some other teams to be determined at the Sweet South Classic at Morgan County High School.
Despite an uptick in competition, Wren said he’s not worried in the least about his team’s ability to keep things moving in the right direction.
“These guys have great chemistry,” he said. “They help each other along. They compliment each other. Their work ethic is tremendous. We’ve only got one gym at our school, so in order to give our other teams the chance to practice, these guys get up every day for practice at 6 a.m. They've dedicated themselves to being a family and being the best team they can be."