The East Eagles boys basketball team entered Saturday feeling pretty good about themselves. They were 11-1, 8th ranked in the state, top-ranked locally, and just picked up a big win over Eagle Academy, receiving votes in the latest AA rankings, in a tournament last weekend in Brooklyn.
But Saturday, the expectations, and the team’s confidence, got that much higher.
East concluded a great day of basketball at the RAP Invitational by defeating The Park School, ranked third in the state, 82-80 in overtime.
“We knew from the start that it was going to be a tough game so we had to just play hard, play together, and we came out with the win,” says sophomore guard Justus Ross-Simmons.
It was a raucous, intense game in front of a sold-out crowd. Both teams went back-and-forth throughout the game, with neither team creating much separation. After East had a four-point lead at the half, they built on their lead in the third and was up 50-41. But Park answered right back with a 16-4 run to lead 57-54 after the third.
“The key was [to] stay calm, and you know just play our game,” says senior guard Kaori Barley. “If we play our game we can beat anybody. If we play our game and play defense. Defense wins championships, honestly.”
The game was razor-tight throughout the fourth quarter and needed overtime to decide a winner after the score was 69-69 after regulation.
East dominated the beginning of the extra time, jumping out to a 79-73 lead. But Park responded as they did all game long, with a run of their own to tie it up at 80.
With seconds remaining the game, it was Zecharia Harris-Scott playing the hero, scoring the game-winner, squaring up down low and hitting his shot in the paint with less than three seconds remaining. The Eagles got the final stop and held on for the win.
“This was a very intense game. I like games like this,” says senior forward Zecharia Harris-Scott. “Because it brings out the best in us as players, as men, it just brings out the best in us.”
East sits at 12-1 after the win, and with a victory over the third-ranked team in Class A, they have high hopes for the rest of the season.
“We can go really far,” says Barley. “The goal is states, no, first the goal is sectionals. We lost in the championship, that’s been holding us down. So the goal is sectionals first and then anything from there. That’s our goal right now.”