Needing one win to secure a state tournament berth, the East Jackson boys’ basketball team spent most of the night playing catchup in a season-ending loss.
The Eagles fell behind by 17 points to Monroe Area in the fourth quarter, and despite a strong, late push, couldn’t dig out of that hole in a 63-56 defeat Tuesday (Feb. 4) in the first round of the Region 8-AAA tournament.
“The moment was too big for this group,” East Jackson coach Jarvis Smith said. “It was just too big… We didn’t come ready to focus, ready to play 32 minutes. The moment was just too big for us.”
Jimmie Jackson led the Eagles with 18 points, 16 of which came in the fourth quarter as the Eagles caught fire late.
“He stepped up, but we ran out of time,” Smith said. “It’s one of those things that we, as a group collectively, it wasn’t a good night for us, and we picked the wrong night not to show up.”
Makayl Rakestraw and Kendrick Carson each added 11 points.
East Jackson, which played two down-to-the-wire regular season games with Monroe Area, trailed 25-23 at the half. But the Eagles were outscored 18-5 in the third quarter to fall behind 43-28 heading into the fourth quarter. The Eagles then trailed 47-30 with 6:56 left in the game when Jackson began scoring in bunches. The junior scored 12 straight points over a 2:11 stretch to work the deficit down to single digits.
A put-back from Jay Watson with 55 seconds left pulled the Eagles to within five points (59-54). But Monroe Area converted 4-of-6 free throws in the final 45 seconds to hang on for the victory.
East Jackson completed its first season under Smith at 14-11.
“When it’s all said and done, this group, I feel, overachieved a little bit,” he said. “I feel like we were in a tough region, and we don’t have what everybody else has. So, we just have to go to war and play the cards that we’re dealt. And our guys played throughout the year. It’s just that we’ve got to learn how to prepare and be ready for big-game situations.”
Smith pointed to a busy offseason ahead.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said. “Year one wasn’t bad — a lot of work to do. We’ll have a long summer … to get these guys in game situations, a lot of games. Hopefully, we’ll learn from this year and the summer and get ready for next year.”