With the game on the line, East Jackson’s Makayl Rakestraw drew on a little motivation from last year to help his team beat rival Jackson County this time around.
Fouled on a 3-point attempt with time running out, Rakestraw drained three clutch free-throws with four seconds left in regulation to force overtime as East Jackson (10-5, 1-4 Region 8-AAA) went on to beat Jackson County 51-50 Friday (Jan. 3) at home.
“Last year, I got hurt the second game we played them, so the third game they beat us because me and Tay (Howard) were out,” Rakestraw said. “So, I thought that through in my head. And I was like, ‘I can’t let them beat me again.’”
Rakestraw didn't, finishing with 27 points, including five 3-pointers and his clutch free throws, as East Jackson earned its first region win.
“We’re on him all the time about working hard all the time,” Eagle coach Jarvis Smith said. “But it’s moments like (that). He’s a gamer. It’s moments like that.”
One of Rakestraw’s biggest moments came with 9.5 seconds remaining in regulation when he hit a 3-pointer to cut a 44-39 Panther lead to 44-42.
East Jackson coaches wanted a lay-up, but the junior instead sank a contested 3-pointer from the corner.
“We said, ‘Get to the rim,’” Smith explained. “He hit the three. OK, we live with it. The kid is a competitor, and he wants to win. He did a great job tonight.”
Rakestraw explained his thinking: “I had hit four (3-pointers). I got to shoot this one.”
East Jackson never trailed once the game moved to overtime.
R.J. White hit a midrange jumper at the 3:02 mark of the extra period, putting the Eagles ahead 47-45. Greg Huggs added a free throw at the 1:42 mark, increasing the lead to 48-45.
Rakestraw converted three more free throws in the final minute to move the lead to 51-46.
Still, Jackson County (4-8, 1-4 Region 8-AAA) had a chance to win at the end. Kedric Zimmer buried a 3-pointer with nine seconds left to cut the lead to 51-50, and Rakestraw missed a pair of free throws with 7.9 seconds left, putting the ball back into Jackson County’s hands.
But the Panthers never got a chance to attempt a game-winner, turning the ball over with four seconds left as East Jackson held on for the victory.
“Great win,” Smith said. “It was a big game, not only because of the rivalry, but we needed to get into the win column for the region. Great atmosphere. This is what it’s all about.”
Jackson County led this low-scoring game at halftime, 18-16, despite its standout, Kalib Clinton, sitting for most of the first half in foul trouble.
Bryson Odom, however, stepped up with 10 first-half points to steady the Panthers. He finished with a team-high 17.
Jackson County led by as many as seven points (25-18) in the third quarter before the Eagles rallied with an 11-1 run that included 3-pointers from Rakestraw and R.J. White. East Jackson led 29-26 heading into the fourth quarter. The lead changed three times in the final period before Rakestraw tied the game at the end of regulation with his three free throws.
In the win, the Eagles limited Clinton, who missed a large portion of the first half, to 14 points. Smith credited the defensive efforts of Kahlil Watkins and R.J. White.
“Those guys really bought in. They did a job collectively together to give us a chance to win,” Smith said.
East Jackson has now won four-straight games, but Smith said getting into the region win column is a momentum booster.
“The kids are learning how to win the close ones … they’re growing up before our eyes,” he said. “It’s huge for the program. This is probably one of those wins that we can say it kind of turned our season around.”
Rakestraw also said the win can serve as a spring board.
“I feel like this is going to give us a lot of confidence,” he said. “I feel like we’ve played every (region) team hard, but we haven’t won a (region) game. So, I feel like this win is going to push us harder. The region needs to wake up.”
East Jackson returns to action Tuesday (Jan. 7) at 7:30 p.m. Monroe Area in region play. Jackson County travels to Oconee County Saturday (Jan. 4, 6:30 p.m.) for a non-region game and then hosts region foe Jefferson Tuesday (Jan. 7) at 7:30 p.m.