East could only ride the adrenaline, the hype and the atmosphere of Thursday night's basketball game for so long before top-ranked Heights started making one momentum-crushing play after another in the Falcons' 76-63 win.
The visiting East student section came out in force, and the game was sold out by halftime of the girls game. The players seemed to become engulfed in it, feeding off of emotion as East's Ronnie McFann and Heights Dreamius Smith received technical fouls for getting into each other's faces. The Aces fed off of the environment and built a 14-8 lead, riding the hot hand of Ja'ln Williams and his 10 first-quarter points.
But as it did all game long, Heights responded with a run of its own, highlighted by a Perry Ellis dunk, chipping away at the Aces until they eventually broke down.
"We faced a lot of adversity at the beginning of the game," Heights coach Joe Auer said. "Everybody was a little too hyper when that game started. The crowd was big. The gym was hot. We survived that. We felt really good at the end of the first quarter, because we really laid an egg at the beginning of the game."
Ellis sparked a 15-2 Heights run from late in the first to the middle of the second quarter. Heights (20-0, 16-0) went up 23-16 and did not surrender its lead for the remainder of the game. East would make runs, but the Falcons always found a way to hold its opponent off with one big play after another.
"When they scored we just stayed together," Heights point guard EJ Dobbins said. "We tried to fight back under pressure. When they scored we made sure to get back and score. We stayed connected and didn't get rowdy when they made a run."
Jalen Love had two points in the first half for East (15-5, 12-3), but he caught fire to start the third quarter and finished with a team-high 21 points. He single-handedly took East on a 7-2 run to start the second half, cutting his team's deficit to 32-31 after sinking a jumper with 6:45 left. Heights, however, responded with an 18-4 run. Dobbins picked up one of his six assists when he found a hole in the East half-court trap and saw Ellis cutting to the basket. He threw a lob and Ellis slammed it over McFann, who fouled.
Ellis (27 points) made the free throw to give the Falcons a 48-35 lead.
"It's basically like a level raiser," Dobbins said. "When he dunks that just pumps us up even if we're tired. We get our second wind and just go hard."
The Falcons also got big minutes off the bench from Aaron Degraffenread, who played the passing lanes and forced turnovers that led to Heights buckets. Auer said the senior's play was huge in finishing the City League with a perfect record.
"We wanted to stay undefeated and finish out the season strong," Degraffenread said. "This was our last City League game so we had to make it count."
East (15-5, 12-3) 14 10 19 20 — 63 Heights (20-0, 15-0) 12 18 24 22 — 76
EAST: Williams 6 6-7 16, Love 8 4-7 21, Jackson 4 0-0 8, Melbert 1 0-0 2, McFann 1 0-0 2, Graham 2 1-3 5, Terrell 2 5-6 9. Totals 22 (3) 16-25 63.
HEIGHTS: Dobbins 3 1-2 8, Wessel 4 0-0 8, Smith 4 3-6 12, Moore 1 2-4 4, Degraffenread 5 0-1 10, Countee 0 2-2 2, Ellis 9 9-19 27, Cross 2 1-2 5. Totals 28 (2) 18-29 76.