Eagles looking for momentum as winter arrives

Eastern Alamance junior center Isaiah Smith blocks an Athens Drive shot attempt during Saturday’s matchup between the Eagles and Jaguars at the Holiday Hoopla Tournament inside Tal Jobe Gymnasium. Although Eastern built a 27-22 halftime lead over Athens Drive, the Eagles were unable to maintain their lead in the second half, as the Jaguars claimed a 65-54 victory. Eastern held a 3-8 record through its first 11 games this season, but may have to miss multiple games in January due to COVID-19 protocols. 

Eastern Alamance’s men’s basketball team picked up some momentum both before and after the Christmas break with a pair of much-needed victories. A pair of triumphs over Eastern Guilford and Southern Alamance gave the Eagles three regular season victories heading into the brunt of their Central Conference regular season schedule, although COVID-19 may wreak havoc on the team’s schedule in early January. 

After a missed opportunity in a frustrating 55-46 loss to Western Alamance December 17 in EAHS’s Central Conference opener, the Eagles were dominated by Chapel Hill on the road in a 74-57 final score the evening of December 20. But the Eagles put it all together the following night for an impressive home victory over Eastern Guilford the evening of Tuesday, December 21. The win over the Wildcats improved EAHS’s record to 2-6 heading into the Holiday break. 

The Eagles got a chance to continue improving and building as a team as Eastern High School resumed its Holiday Hoopla Tournament. The Holiday Hoopla event has been a much-anticipated occurrence for more than a decade. But after being forced to cancel the tournament in 2020, the teams and crowds returned to Tal Jobe Gymnasium December 30 through January 1 for the 14th annual Holiday Hoopla competition. 

In its opening game of the tournament, the Eagles faced off against Carrboro, who handed EAHS a disappointing 60-50 setback. As has been an ongoing problem so far early in the season, the Eagles got off to a slow start, allowing the visiting Jaguars to take a 16-11 lead after one quarter of play, and a 30-16 halftime lead. The Eagles struggled offensively, scoring just five points over the eight minutes of the second quarter. 

EAHS charged back, however, with a spirited rally in the third quarter. Finding their offensive rhythm, the Eagles scored 24 third quarter points to pull within 44-40 heading into the final period. It was a golden opportunity for the Eagles to pick up an inspiring come-from-behind triumph, but Carrboro regained the initiative down the stretch, outscoring the Eagles 16-10 over the final eight minutes on their way to a 60-50 victory, which relegated Eastern to the consolation bracket of the tournament. 

Returning to action on New Year’s Eve against local rival Southern Alamance, the Eagles again got off to a sluggish start, allowing the Patriots to take an early 17-8 lead. Trailing 38-28 at halftime, the Eagles regrouped for a spirited second half rally. EAHS cut into the Patriots lead into the third quarter, pulling within 54-49 heading into the final period, and then exploded with a dynamic offensive finish in the fourth quarter. Converting shots all over the perimeter, the Eagles scored an impressive 27 points over the game’s final eight minutes, turning a double-digit halftime deficit into a convincing 76-62 victory, which improved Eastern’s overall record to 3-7. 

Playing for the third time in three days, the Eagles faced off against Athens Drive High School on New Year’s Day in the fifth place game. After two rough starts in their opening pair of games in the tournament, the Eagles came out fired up in the first half against Athens Drive, scoring 19 second quarter points on their way to a 27-22 halftime lead. But Athens Drive came alive in the second half, outscoring the Eagles by nine points in the third quarter to take a 45-41 lead heading into the fourth quarter. 

While the Eagles played hard all the way down to the end, they were unable to make the comeback, scoring just 13 points in the fourth quarter as Athens Drive built on their lead on the way to a 65-54 victory. Athens Drive got the overwhelming majority of its production from a pair of juniors - Noah Hinton and Shaun Kenedy - who combined for 48 of their 65 points. Kenedy led all scorers with 25 points, while Hinton added 23 points, including five 3-pointers. Although the Eagles forced 11 Athens Drive turnovers, the Jaguars forced 13 steals against the Eagles, leading to multiple scoring chances. 

Eastern Alamance was supposed to resume conference play this week with a home game against Williams the evening of Tuesday, January 4, followed by a road game at Cedar Ridge the evening of Friday, January 7. But those plans have reportedly been changed, as the Enterprise has learned that COVID-19 protocols forced the Eagles to postpone their Central Conference matchup with Williams the evening of Tuesday, January 4. Stay tuned to MebaneEnterprise.com for additional updates regarding the COVID-19 status of the Eastern High men’s basketball team.