COVINGTON, Ga. — The Eastside boys' basketball team secured its place in the state playoffs Monday night as it pulled off a physical, 62-52 win over the Jackson County Panthers.
The victory over the Panthers (8-11, 3-11) was especially big for head coach Dorrian Randolph, who will lead the Eagles (12-8, 10-5) into the playoffs in his first year as head coach.
“It feels great [to make the playoffs],” Randolph said. “We wanted to send our seniors out with having a taste of what the state [playoffs] are like.”
The first two quarters were mainly defensive for both teams, but the Eagles still managed to hold a decent lead over Jackson County as they only allowed six points in the first quarter and 10 in the second quarter.
Going into halftime with the 21-16 lead, it was still up in the air with both offenses being stopped often up to that point.
Coming out into the third quarter, Eastside began to score, as a barrage of 3-point shots would land for the Eagles.
Seniors Jaylen Woods and Jayce Douglas joined up with junior Jacquez Williams to knock down multiple 3 as the trio started to get the momentum rolling when the Eagles needed it the most.
“We were a little stagnant [in the first half], we just need to be who we are,” Randolph said. “We were on a seven-game win streak and we got that by being able to shoot the ball, so I told my shooters to shoot with confidence.”
Woods hit back-to-back 3-pointers to close out the third quarter and Eagles took a 38-30 lead, but the Panthers were still continuing the fight.
Senior Jaylen Lelie-Johnson would turn it on in the final quarter as the guard was able to slash his way to the rim easily.
Johnson got to the line four times in the first four minutes of the quarter, which helped Eagles to build up to a 50-37 lead over Jackson County.
Just as time was beginning to become scarce, the Panthers cane storming back, connecting on multiple and-one’s as well as a 3-pointer to reduce the Eastside lead to only 50-45.
With the clock now under two minutes, Johnson connected on a dime to Williams, would put up the easy lay-in to provide cushion. Shortly after both Douglas and Johnson drew fouls and connected on all shots at the line to extend the lead to 60-52.
Just as time was about to expire Douglas got the steal and passed the ball to Johnson, who threw it down for a massive dunk to send the Eagles to the playoffs in outstanding fashion.
“[Johnson] is a slasher, and he can get to the line whenever he wants, I just have to calm him down because he so eager to get there. Him getting to the line that much and shooting around 80% really helps us,” Randolph said.
The playoff-clinching win for the Eagles marks their eighth straight victory, as Eastside has the momentum at just the right time.
Johnson would lead the Eagles in scoring with 20 points, while Woods and Williams ended the game with 14 points each.
The Eagles will look to take the momentum into the later part of the week as they go on the road to Walnut Grove High School to play the Greenbrier Wolfpack (15-9, 10-5) in the first round of the state playoffs Thursday, Feb. 18.