The East Jackson boys’ basketball team broke through in region play at the expense of its biggest rival.
The Eagles downed Jackson County 66-50 on Friday at home, earning their first 8-AAA victory.
“We’ve been so close in so many games, we just had to correct a few mistakes throughout the game, and we finally did (Friday) in the second half,” coach David Akin said. “And that was the difference.”
Xavier Clark provided one of his best performances of the year, scoring 29 points as East Jackson (2-22, 1-9) snapped a 13-game losing skid.
“Zay Clark is as tough a player that anyone in this region has,” Akin said. “You may be just as tough, but you can’t be more tough than Zay Clark. He knows what his strengths are and he goes and executes them … The missing piece is everyone knows what he’s going to do but yet he can still do it.”
Jace Bonds added 10 points, and Braeden Lowe finished with eight points in what Akin considered to be something of a break-out game for the junior.
“I can say this with 100-percent certainty, (Friday) was the first night we trusted Braeden with the ball at the high post,” Akin said.
Christian Smith led Jackson County with 20 points.
Despite the 15-point margin of victory, this was a tight contest for the majority of the night. East Jackson led 26-25 at the half and 42-36 after three quarters before building a double-digit fourth quarter lead and then watching it shrink.
Jackson County cut East Jackson’s lead to 54-48 late but East Jackson responded with a 12-0 run to put the game away, much to Akin’s delight.
“That’s what’s been missing is the finish,” he said. “We’re in the game … and adversity hits and we don’t respond, and I’m proud to be the coach of a team that responded to adversity (Friday). When they cut it to six, we did not lose our poise.”
Akin also praised his team for staying the course despite starters like Kobe Haley and Jace Bonds running into foul trouble.
“Which just goes to show you how much heart we have for some of our starters to not play as many minutes and guys off the bench were fantastic,” he said. “They gave us energy. They listened. It was a great team win (Friday), and that’s what we’re interested in having.”
After picking up his first coaching victory over Jackson County, Akin offered kind words to the Eagles’ rivals.
“I want to give Jackson County so much credit for fighting to the end,” he said. “It’s a rivalry but I have so much respect for coach Butler and all their players. They play the way I want our guys to play — just tough-nosed, never quit. Just know out there, people, I’m rooting for Jackson County when we’re not playing them.”
•MONROE AREA 72, EAST JACKSON 43 (SATURDAY, FEB. 4): The Eagles trailed by just six points in the third quarter on the road before Monroe Area took control for a convincing 72-43 win Saturday.
“We just ran out of gas again and could not sustain a level of play that is required when you play a team as well-coached and talented as Monroe Area,” Akin said. “They have a number of future college basketball players on their roster. The final score was a result of just being worn down from playing the night before.”
Haley hit six 3-pointers and finished with 20 points. Clark added 10 points.
The fifth-seed Eagles were set to take on No. 4 seed Hart County on Tuesday in the region tournament with a trip to the state tournament on the line.