COLLEGE PARK, Ga. — Tuesday night was personal for coach Gladys King and the Eastside Lady Eagles basketball team.
In an era where coaches sometimes shy away from revenge rhetoric when it comes to motivating their teams, King didn’t shy away from the fact that the “R” word provided a great deal of fuel for Eastside in its come-from-behind, 60-54 win at Region 4-AAAA foe, Woodward Academy.
“They came into our place and they took one from us,” King said, referring to Woodward’s 70-67 overtime loss back on December 7.
“Even though we fought and went into overtime, we were down by 17 at halftime when they came to Eastside. But they came to our gym and took one for us, so I told our girls we owe them one. We need to come in here and take one back. You don’t let anyone come into your house and take anything from you, so we’ve gotta take one from them.”
Eastside fell behind in this one too, thanks in part to a 22-point performance by freshman phenom, Sydney Bowles — a player that King said her team prioritized defensively. But Bowles only had four points in the first half, and 10 of her team-high total at the free throw line.
“Our girls played team ball,” King said. “They listened to all the changes I made with the defense. They changed up a lot, and they adjusted to all the changes. They listened.”
Eastside’s defenses ran the gamut from zone to press to man, all designed to keep Woodward (5-12, 3-5) from getting too comfortable with feed Bowles offensively.
“We started out in 32, trapping in the corners, but we realized that wasn’t working for us because they kept kicking the ball out, shooting and making shots,” King said. “So we went box-and-one. We ran triangle-and-two, where we isolated two of the guards, and that kind of helped going into the third quarter. It was about playing defense to keep the ball out of No. 31’s hands.”
Meanwhile, Eastside’s own scorer, junior Alysee Dobbs had a game-high 25 points while being the recipient of a few impressive dimes from T’Niah Douglas. Douglas added several timely assists to add to her eight points. But King was super high on the play of Jamiyra Smith.
The junior guard scored 11 points, including knocking down several clutch free throws down the stretch of the fourth quarter to salt the game away.
But it was the stuff that didn’t find its way to the stats sheet that had King raving.
“She’s scrappy and she knows I like hustle, and that’s what keeps her on the floor,” King said. “That’s one young lady that’s gonna hustle. I’m very pleased with her effort this season.”
What makes it even more impressive is she’s doing it while getting her first true varsity minutes after spending most of her sophomore season on the JV squad. Naturally, she had to push through some growing pains that come with acclimating to the varsity level. But as the season progresses, King says Smith is as well.
“At the beginning of the season, she was not quite sure what I wanted or what I expected,” King said. “She’s coming from JV and in the beginning of the season, she was timid. She didn’t know what it’s like on the varsity level. It’s a big stage and a different stage for her. But she comes in and does a really good job for us. She handles the ball and, like I said, she’s scrappy and hustles and that’s exactly what I want from here.
“We came together and had a talk and I told her that, if anybody, right now you’re my most improved player.”
Efforts from her, Douglas, Dobbs and Dasia Burgess who chipped in eight points in Tuesday’s win, has King feeling good about where her team sits for the home stretch of the season.
The Eagles (8-7, 4-4 in Region 4-AAAA) put themselves in third place behind state-ranked squads, Henry County (17-2, 8-0) and Luella (14-3, 6-1). North Clayton also has a 4-4 record in region play, but Eastside’s 59-47 win at North Clayton back in November gives them the edge.
With another get-back game against Salem Friday night and region rematches with Luella and North Clayton next week — after Saturday’s game at Newton — King said she feels confident about her team’s postseason prospects.
“Everybody is pretty much beatable in our region, so I feel really good about us, and I think we can push ourselves up to third or second or maybe win a tiebreaker with someone,” she said. “And it’s always my goal to get to the state tournament. Doesn’t matter what the record is. Sometimes you’ve just gotta come in as the underdog and upset some people.
“Some people don’t expect Eastside to do a lot, but it’s my fourth year here. I’m excited about our girls. There’ve been some ups and downs, but we continue to get through them.”