Even though the Bettye Davis East boys basketball team had bested West High twice earlier this season, the Thunderbirds knew better than to underestimate the surging crosstown Eagles.
West came into the Tuesday night matchup on the Thunderbirds’ home court riding a four-game winning streak and fresh off an upset over Dimond last Friday.
The meeting was the third between the teams and while both previous matchups resulted in somewhat comfortable wins for the Thunderbirds, this game was different. East had to hold off a last-minute rally by the Eagles to secure a 45-43 win.
“West is very good,” Chuck Martin said. “It’s not a coincidence that they came in here and played us to two points and they beat Dimond at their place. There’s no doubt that they’re one of the five best teams in the state. They’re capable of winning a state championship.”
West trailed for the entire first half but kept it close, never falling behind by double digits. The Eagles headed into halftime down just 21-18.
The Eagles went on a 5-0 run to open the third quarter and take their first lead of the game. After that, the two teams traded the lead back and forth until the Thunderbirds went on a late run in the fourth quarter only to have it answered and nearly matched in the final minute.
West scored six points in the final minute and had a chance to take a last-second lead but junior point guard Aarion Alexander’s final shot from behind the arc and just past half court was narrowly off the mark as time expired.
“They pressure you enough that you have to be aware of it up the floor and it’s pretty constant pressure,” Martin said. “It got to us late so it’s a big win in that regard just because it’s a conference game, it’s at home, and it’s against one of the five best team in the state.”
East had a pair of players reach double figures in scoring led by sophomore Muhammed Sabally with a game-high 14, over half of which came on free throws. Senior Deshawn Rushmeyer added 10 and also did most of his damage from the charity stripe.
West had a trio of players record double-digits in points. Junior Des’laone Cook led the team with 13 followed by Alexander with 11. Senior Willie Zamora scored 10.
Even though they emerged victorious, the Thunderbirds are aware of their continued struggles in late-game situations.
“Obviously we didn’t execute very well,” Martin said. “We’ve struggled a number of times this year when we’ve had leads and haven’t done a good job.”