Eastern Alamance’s men’s basketball team continued its push towards a possible postseason berth with a pair of games this week against Person and Williams. On Friday evening, the Eagles will host Northern Guilford in the friendly confines of Tal Jobe Gymnasium.
On Tuesday evening, EAHS hosted Person for an important Mid-State Conference battle. It was a chance for the Eagles not only to get some revenge on the Rockets for defeating them in mid-December, but also for EAHS to continue its push back to .500. After an 0-7 start, the Eagles won seven of their next nine games.
Prior to the game against the Rockets, Eastern High principal Eric Yarbrough paid tribute to EAHS men’s head coach John McPherson, who won his 211th game at the helm of the Eagles the prior week. The victory made McPherson the winningest coach in the history of the Eastern High varsity men’s basketball program.
After EAHS and Person went scoreless in the opening two minutes, Darius Kane set the tone for the first half for the Eagles, burying a 3-pointer for a 3-0 Eagles lead at the 5:30 mark of the first quarter. Kane went on to nail two more 3-pointers in the next couple minutes as Eastern stretched its lead out to 9-0.
Evan Mann continued Eastern’s early offensive flurry, connecting on two more 3-pointers as the lead expanded to 15-0. Person finally got on the scoreboard at the 1:53 mark of the opening quarter with a 3-pointer of its own, but Kane quickly followed it up with yet another 3-pointer. A slam dunk in the final minute of the first quarter by Rockets sophomore guard Jasiel Bumphus was the first 2-point field goal of the game for either team.
Leading 21-11 heading into the second quarter, the Eagles continued to let it rain from long range. A 3-pointer by Mann gave the Eagles a 24-16 lead with 4:10 to play before halftime, and Alik Lewis added a transition layup for a 26-16 advantage at the 3:00 mark. Person scored five straight points to work within 26-21, but a transition slam dunk by Nick Blackwell, which got the EAHS student section going, made the score 30-21 with 50 seconds left until the half. Lewis finished off the half with another EAHS layup, making the halftime lead 32-21 in favor of the Eagles.
The third quarter belonged entirely to Person, as the Rockets held Eastern to just five points. The visitors from Roxboro managed to tie the score, 37-37, heading into the fourth quarter. The two teams played and frantic back-and-forth battle down the stretch, eventually going into overtime. A 3-pointer by Bumphus gave Person a 40-39 advantage early in the fourth quarter, and the Rockets eventually built the lead as high as 44-39 before EAHS began to climb back.
A bucket and free throw by Blackwell kept the Eagles close, and a basket by Kane pulled the home squad within 46-44. Kane added a series of three free throws, and then connected on a clutch 3-pointer to tie the game at 50-50 in the final minute. The game went into overtime with the score knotted up, 50-50.
In the extra session, Lewis got Eastern on the board first with a free throw, but a pair of baskets by Person made the score 54-51 in favor of the Rockets. The Eagles called a timeout, but Person scored yet again to take a commanding 56-51 lead in the final minute. Kane nailed yet another 3-pointer to pull Eastern within 56-54, but Bumphus stepped up and sank a critical pair of free throws for Person. The Rockets would add one final free throw, while Eastern got a pair of free throws from Mann, for the 59-56 final score.
The frustrating loss to Person dropped Eastern’s overall mark to 7-10, and its conference mark to 3-6. Three Eagles were in double figures against the Rockets, including Darius Kane, who scored 23 points and made six 3-pointers, Evan Mann, who added 15 points, and Alik Lewis, who contributed 10 points.
Eastern didn’t have time to feel sorry for itself after the Tuesday overtime setback at home to Person, as the following night, the Eagles traveled across Alamance County to Burlington for a non-conference matchup with Williams.
It didn’t look good early on for the Eagles, as Williams did essentially the same thing they did in last year’s NCHSAA East Regional championship game - jump on EAHS early. With the Eagles struggling to find offense in the opening quarter, the Bulldogs built an early 13-3 lead.
Things looked bleak, but EAHS suddenly brought it all together to take control. Eastern put together an absolutely brilliant defensive stretch against the Bulldogs, as they held the defending NCHSAA 3A East Regional champions to only eight points over a 23-minute stretch over the second, third, and fourth quarters. Eastern’s tremendous defense allowed them to get a measure of revenge on Williams for ending their state title dreams last winter.
With Kane scoring 17 points, and Lewis adding an additional 10 points, the Eagles dominated the Bulldogs, 51-32, to improve to 8-10 overall.
Currently sitting in a sixth place tie in the Mid-State Conference standings, the Eagles take on Mid-State Conference co-leader Northern Guilford Friday night. The Eagles took the other Mid-State co-leader - Western Alamance - to double overtime on its home court a couple weeks back, while beating the league’s third place team, Morehead. So while the 15-3 Nighthawks may be the prohibitive favorite heading in, it would be wise not to rule out the Eagles.