ATLANTA, Ga. - The Eastside Eagles (16-4, 7-3 region 4-AAAA) led for almost every second of their game on the road against the North Clayton Eagles (13-5, 6-4 region 4-AAAA), but the home team found a way at the very end to take a crucial region game by a score of 63-61.
Although the game was close for the duration of the contest, Eastside owned the advantage on the scoreboard for much of the night. The Eagles from Eastside did not trail in the second half until the last 19 seconds.
With the game tied at 61 and 31.2 seconds left in the contest, things looked favorable as Eastside controlled possession and had an opportunity to take the lead. Eastside would inbound the ball, and after a few passes, Jaylen Lelie-Johnson put up a 3-pointer that bounced off the back off the rim and was quickly corralled by North Clayton.
The North Clayton players would move the ball quickly in transition before Eastside could recover and lay in an easy layup with 19 seconds left on the clock.
The Eastside players would quickly inbound the ball and try to find a clean shot, but could not sink a crucial basket. After the missed shot, North Clayton would pull down the rebound as the clock expired.
The stands erupted, and the gym was an explosion of cheers that resounded throughout the arena and left an exciting aura overwhelming everyone in attendance except for fans and players of Eastside, who seemed to be in disbelief at watching a game that was controlled all night by their side slipped away at the end.
As the final buzzer sounded and players made their way to shake hands, Eastside Eagles head coach Michael Gerald stepped all the way to the end of his bench, removed his glasses and rubbed his face as one would do with a bad headache.
This game could definitely be described as that, as Eastside controlled the game for the majority but could not finish. When Gerald was asked what his biggest takeaway was from the game, he let out a big sigh and had this to say.
"Wow, um, we just have to put people away when we have the opportunity," he said, "We controlled the game most of the time, but they were still able to keep it at a three, four, five-point game and I knew that if we continued to allow that, it was going to catch up to us."
Gerald eventually said that he was "disappointed in the way we finished," and he has reason to be disappointed as his team shot 44% from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter.
Those missed opportunities proved to be crucial down the stretch and had a sizable impact on the game as a whole. Gerald mentioned free throw shooting on the night as an area that was an overall disappointment.
Despite the tough night, it was a collectively strong team performance with Myles Rice leading the way with 17 points and Chauncey Wiggins following closely behind with 14 points.
Gerald also mentioned that he was pleased with the play of Lelie-Johnson and Miokaye Grant and said that there were "several kids that played better than they have all season."
As tough as a loss as this may be, Gerald knows that his guys can't let it weigh them down and even said that they could not hang their heads over this loss because they have to regroup and refocus for their next match.
That next match is absolutely crucial for Eastside as they will battle the Salem Seminoles (10-10, 6-3 region 4-AAAA) for the second spot in region 4-AAAA. Eastside will need to regroup quickly for this away match on Saturday, Jan. 18.