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PREP BASKETBALL: Eastside uses explosive second half to upend Salem
Myles Rice
Eastside guard Myles Rice (2) tries to dribble by a Salem defender during the third quarter of a 72-57 victory. Photo by Anthony Banks.

Zach Miles

COVINGTON, Ga. — In a game where the Eastside Eagles (10-1, 4-1 Region 4AAAA) needed someone to carry the load and step up, junior guard Myles Rice answered the call to give his team a 72-57 win over the Salem Seminoles on Friday night.

The first half was back-and-forth as the Eagles relied on top sophomore Chauncey Wiggins, who scored 8 points in the half and totaled 15 on the night.

The Seminoles were led by guard Xavier Eutsey who had 14 points in the first half, including a pair of 3-pointers to close out the half.

Wiggins kept up with Eutsey in credit to his mid-range jump shots and had to propel his team’s early fight before exploding as a team in the second half.

‘I was getting good looks because I was posting up their big man and extending him outside the paint with my footwork,” Wiggins said. “We weren’t locking up in the first half, but we made the adjustments at halftime and took off after that.”

With a 29-29 tie going into halftime, the Eagles looked to Rice for a spark after fellow junior guard Jaylen Woods went down early in the third quarter with an apparent injury. Woods never returned to the game.

After an opening basket from the Seminoles, it was a 16-2 run in the third quarter by the Eagles break the close contest. Rice led the run and highlighted the run with a pair of offensive rebounds capped off by an and-one layup all in one possession.

Rice hit a corner 3-pointer to ignite the Eagles student section as Rice scored 11 of the 16 points on the run, adding to his team-leading 25 points on the night.

Head coach Michael Gerald knew he could lean on Rice despite the loss of Woods.

“He’s [Rice] been a leader going all the way back to the summer,” coach Gerald commented on the junior guard. “He’s a competitor, and we got him to spill his competitiveness onto the other guys so they can play on that level. We’re fortunate to have him.”

The Seminoles responded by scoring 6 unanswered points to close out the quarter.

After the Seminoles trailed by just 5 points following another Eutsey basket for his team, the Eagles came storming back with an 11-0 run early in the fourth quarter.

The Eagles controlled a 57-41 lead, but Eutsey fought to keep his Seminoles in the game despite the hole.

Eutsey knocked down clutch free throws and a pair of shots behind-the-arc to add to his 25 points on the night, which tied Rice for the most on the night. Although Eutsey and company never backed down, the Eagles proved to be too much at the end.

Starting forward Jake Casola capped the night off for the Eagles to bring home the victory as the senior scored nine of his 11 points in the final four minutes of play.

The Salem Seminoles (7-4, 3-1) were ousted for the first time in region play this year and relinquished their tie for first place in the region. The Seminoles will have the weekend to recover before playing Heritage on Tuesday.

As for the Eastside Eagles, the win marks their eighth victory in a row and ties them for second place in the region standings. Coach Gerald earned his 101st win Friday night and will go for his ninth in a row Saturday night against Druid Hills at home.

Despite the win, Eagles head coach Gerald isn’t going to celebrate the victory for too long.

“We only concentrate on the game in front of us,” Gerald said. “We move past this game tonight. … We have to get better against Druid Hills and focus on our motto of being the best version of yourself.”