The Eastside boys and girls basketball teams have gotten off to slow starts this season. After both teams made waves last year, they were depleted by the departure of key senior players who moved on to college. The Eagles (3-6, 2-3 Region 4-AAAA) and the Lady Eagles (2-7, 2-3 Region 4-AAAA) both got wins over Pike County on Friday night to move them in the right direction at the quarter mark of the season.
Lady Eagles building confidence
The Lady Eagles won 54-48, holding off a strong fourth quarter push from a Pike County team – previously undefeated in region play – that has the fourth-best record in a deep region.
Eastside attacked Pike on defense, using an array of full/half-court traps to force turnovers and turn them into points. Eastside’s defense was a big reason why they got off to an early 16-8 lead almost midway through the first quarter. Raynesha Clay did a good job of running the floor and demanding the ball. She scored seven of Eastside’s 18 first quarter points.
“That’s been our M.O. for the last couple years: pressure defense,” Matthew Jackson, Lady Eagles’ head coach, said. “[We allowed] our defense to turn into our offense and tonight the girls really, really bought into it and they played their behinds off. I’m really proud that we were able to capitalize on the other team’s turnovers.”
The Lady Pirates fought back and trailed by just two at halftime. In the third quarter the Lady Eagles got back to the pressure defense that was so successful early in the game and took a big lead going into the fourth.
The Lady Eagles were pressuring so well a Pike County fan yelled, “You got to get rid of the ball before you get to the trap.” She was right, but the Lady Pirates just didn’t make the right adjustments and they allowed Eastside to control the game in both the first and the third periods.
Again in the fourth, the Lady Pirates came roaring back into the game by getting into the teeth of Eastside’s half-court defense and converting on layups and second chance opportunities.
With just two minutes to go the Eastside lead was trimmed to five (47-42) after leading 42-33 at the end of the third. At that point, Jackson employed his players to hold the ball on offense and attack only at the right moment. The Lady Eagles smartly swung the ball around allowing time to slowly tick off the clock.
“Just having the ball in the right people’s hands. Janelle Cook, as our point guard, and then having Teirra Brown along with Raynesha Clay being able to control that ball. Deja Saintilus and Tierra Smith, they didn’t turn the ball over. [We] spread it out and made them have to play one-on-one, it made it a whole lot easier. It also built my team’s confidence as far as being able to control the tempo and be able to handle the ball,” Jackson said of his team’s offense in the final minutes.
Pike got within three points, but a three-point play from Saintilus put the game out of reach at 52-46 with less than 40 seconds to play.
To get back to the level of play the Lady Eagles want to compete at a high level, Jackson says it starts with confidence and that this win was a big confidence builder.
“We’ve been in, at least for a half, most of our games and then we just fell short,” Jackson said. :So now with this, this is our first complete game. We’re just going to continue to do what we do and work hard.”
Eagles learning on the fly
If you know Eagles’ head basketball coach, Gregory Freeman, you know he’s a task master and a stickler for playing basketball the right way. The Eagles beat the Pirates soundly, in a 61-35 blowout victory, but Freeman was far from pleased with the play of his team.
“I set the bar high,” Freeman said. “They have to reach up. They have to reach up and want to get where they need to get to.”
Before the season Freeman said he wanted his team to play with a grit and grind attitude and to this point in the season they haven’t done that like he wants them to just yet.
“We have to – to a man – play with that resolve. Right now, we don’t have everybody doing that, at least not consistently,” Freeman said.
Freeman also emphasizes ball movement, which at times the Eagles did well in their win on Friday, especially in the first quarter when they got off to a 16-6 spurred by a couple of threes from Marquise Sims.
Eastside was able to convert easy buckets off turnovers from the team’s pressure defense, but in the halfcourt there were times the Eagles just wouldn’t make the extra pass. Watching the game you could see Freeman’s disappointment in the way the team played when they didn’t make the right pass or take the right shots, despite them being up by a large margin the entire game.
“We have to make everybody defend,” Freeman said. “We don’t have any one offensive play that’s just going to carry us, in spite of what they think. We have to run our sets and execute them in order to be better. When we do that – that’s the weird thing – we get easy buckets and then they go away from that.”
“We want to get opportunities in the open court,” Freeman said. “I thought our pressure bothered them a little bit tonight and thought we had some good play out of Ratayvious Jackson. With his length and speed, he can kind of help us push the tempo better.”
“It’s really about them understanding how good they can be together and stop trying to be good individually,” he added.
Freeman’s team is made up of a bunch of young players and some seniors who are finally beginning to play varsity on a consistent basis. There is some talent in their youth, such as sophomore Isaiah Miller who Freeman said played well by letting them game come to him.
Although he wasn’t super excited about the win, Freeman said it was a step in the right direction. He added that Sims played well, but he wants more consistency out of J.J. Saxton and Timothy Haynes.
“What they didn’t know tonight. They’ll learn tomorrow night and the next week, and the next week,” Freeman said. “It’ll compound itself and make them better. That’s my demand on them.”