East Jackson boys' basketball coach Jarvis Smith called this week “judgment week.” If that’s the case, the verdict is looking good so far for the Eagles.
East Jackson jumped out to a 16-4 start and rode that energy to a 49-36 rivalry win over Jackson County on the road Tuesday (Jan. 28). The Eagles close the regular season Friday (Jan. 31) at home against Monroe Area.
“If you lose two games going in (to the region tournament), you’re limping in,” said Smith, when asked about the importance of the week. “ … We need all of the momentum that we can possibly get. This week right here is going to show and tell who we are as a program.”
Makayl Rakestraw scored 18 points Tuesday to pace the Eagles (14-9, 5-6 Region 8-AAA), who snapped a three-game losing skid.
“It was an important win, not only because of the rivalry, but we were on a three-game skid,” Smith said. “We know we’re in a situation going into the region tournament that we want to go in there playing good ball. We don’t want to limp in.”
Jackson County’s Kalib Clinton scored 17 points, but the Eagles were able to hold him nearly 10 points below his season average of 26.75 points per game. Smith called the defensive job a collective effort.
“We just showed them bodies,” he said. “He’s good enough to beat you. He just had 40 (points) against Morgan (County) … He’s going to score. We’ve just got to limit his scoring. You can’t let him score in big bursts like he did the other night. The guys did a great job of that.”
Overall, Smith said his team “did a great job defending.”
A 13-0 East Jackson run in the first quarter erased a 4-0 deficit and put the Eagles in control early. Kahlil Watkins then hit a 3-pointer with 1:16 left in the quarter to give the Eagles a 16-4 lead.
“The guys responded tonight,” Smith said. “They were ready to go, fired up, and hit shots early.”
Clinton rattled off 10 points in the first 4:38 of the second quarter to pull the Panthers to within 20-15, and Bryce Odom added a free throw to cut the lead to 20-16 with 1:48 left in the first half. But that’s as close as Jackson County would get.
A put-back from Greg Huggs just before the halftime buzzer gave East Jackson a 24-16 lead heading into the locker room.
East Jackson opened the second half with a 11-4 run to build a 15-point lead and never looked back, maintaining a double-digit lead for nearly all the remainder of the game.
Jackson County (7-14) fell to 2-9 in the region with the loss, snapping a two-game winning streak. The Panthers will travel to Jefferson Friday for its regular-season finale.
East Jackson will look to lock up the No. 4 seed for the Region 8-AAA tournament, if it can beat Monroe Area Friday.