Thursday night for the East boys basketball team ended with its coach, Joe Jackson, challenging its desire to play together in a heated post-game conversation in the locker room at Koch Arena.
Minutes earlier, East had prevailed 57-52 over Andover Central, erasing a 10-point deficit and winning its second straight game after edging Heights on Tuesday.
But it was the lackadaisical start and uninspired play at times that set Jackson off on his tirade.
“We’re just not playing together yet,” Jackson said. “We have the pieces to be a really good team, but it’s frustrating right now because we have more individual play than team play going on. And until we start to really commit to each other, then every game from here on out is going to be a dog fight.”
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Jackson was most disappointed in East’s start to the game.
In the pre-game scouting report, Jackson had informed his players in capitalized letters that Andover Central sophomore Braden Belt was a deadeye shooter. But that didn’t persuade East from paying much attention to Belt in the opening quarter, as he connected on four three-pointers and scored 16 points to pace Andover Central to a 20-11 lead.
Facing a packed-in zone defense from Andover Central, East also struggled to piece much offense together in the first half. The Jaguars took a 26-22 lead into halftime.
“I think all of our guys get along, so it’s a chemistry issue, but it’s really just about giving it up and being selfless and giving it up for each other,” said Jackson about what he told his team at halftime. “That’s what we have to buy into and until we do that, then we’re going to see a lot more of struggle, struggle, struggle.”
Jackson was slightly pleased with the improvements that the second half brought, as East did share the basketball more often and saw a slight uptick in movement on offense.
East took its first lead of the game, 40-39, early in the fourth quarter and opened up a 51-46 lead with 2:32 remaining.
Andover Central did have a chance to cut into the lead, but missed the front-end of a bonus free throw. East rebounded and made free throws down the stretch to seal the victory.
“I do feel like things need to change,” said East’s Zion Fralin, who led the team with 16 points. “Nobody is really happy about this win. If I was coach, I would be upset too. We still have guys who aren’t bought in. Coach knows what he’s doing. He’s won multiple state championships before, so we just need to find a way to step up.”
So what needs to change from the players?
“Me and the other leaders of the team, we just have to do a better job of leading this team,” said senior point guard Michael McKinney. “Right now we all aren’t bought in, but we’ll figure it out. We still got a month or two left in our season and all we can do is get better.”
While Jackson was disappointed in his team’s performance, he admitted it was made slightly better because it ended in a win.
“But we’ve got to play better, regardless of what the score says,” Jackson said. “Our guys have to start coming together or else it’s going to be an up-and-down season all year long.”
East improved to 6-3 with the victory, while Andover Central, which was led by 23 points from Belt, dropped its third straight game and fell to 3-5.
ANDOVER CENTRAL: B. Belt 23, X. Bell 11, I. Anthemides 10, P. Henry 4, Ja. Washington 4.
EAST: Z. Fralin 16, E. Valentin 9, M. McKinney 7, T. Silmon 6, K. Thomas 5, E. Kelly 4, J. Caldwell 4, M. Jenkins 3, J. Finney 2, J. Randle 1.