When East sophomore Samajae Jones enters his zone, he can’t explain what happens.
Jones entered that zone in the first half Friday against Southeast in a Class 6A sub-state final, spurring on the Blue Aces to a 60-50 victory behind his game-high 19 points.
Three straight baskets in less than 30 seconds — including a spin move that left a Southeast defender tumbling to the ground — sent the East crowd into a frenzy that continued after the game in celebration of the Blue Aces’ first state berth since 2008.
“I can feel everything,” Jones said of being in the zone. “I can hear everybody screaming, yelling my name. That makes me feel good. I do it all for my team. I don’t know, I guess when I’m in it, I’m in it.”
East could also credit the steady production of Jordan Hester (13 points, 7 rebounds) or the play of point guard De’Shawn Terrell (10 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 5 steals).
Southeast is best when the freshmen duo of Jerrick Harding and Elijah Payne are hitting from the outside, which they did in the first half when the Buffaloes took a 32-31 lead into halftime.
But Southeast never figured out East’s matchup zone. The Buffaloes missed 10 of their final 11 three-point attempts as East grabbed control of the game.
“We watched them enough on film to feel like we had a good idea of where their shooters would be against the zone,” East coach Joe Jackson said. “We tried to close out and always have a hand in their face and I thought the kids did a great job executing it.”
After a passive first half spent creating for others, Terrell made a conscious decision to score in the second half. He was crucial in putting away Southeast, scoring six straight points — the last four off steals and lay-ins — to give East a 54-41 lead with 5:04 left in the game.
“I just felt like that was what my team needed for us to win the game,” Terrell said.
Although Southeast was betrayed by the three-point shot that makes it so dangerous, coach Melvin Herring is confident the Buffaloes will keep firing in the future and be even better. Southeast returns every player that played Friday.
The Buffaloes had four players in double-figures with Jordan Murdock (11 points), Payne (10), Harding (10) and Octevious Loudermilk (10).
“Everybody’s expectation was to move on tonight, so it is disappointing,” Herring said. “But you have to look at the future and get excited. I told them to remember this moment, to stay in this moment through the summer and work hard to get back here next year.”