South trimmed East’s lead to three points in the second quarter of Friday’s basketball game, and the Blue Aces needed a response from their Big Three:
McKinney, Dixon, Fralin.
OK, maybe it’s not the trio of stars – Samajae Jones, Zach Jackson and Xavier Kelly – who combined for 45 points in East’s 77-55 win.
But when the Aces needed baskets and big plays, Michael McKinney, Jaylen Dixon and Isaac Fralin played as big as anyone. McKinney and Dixon each made important shots to answer South’s threat, and Fralin contributed to East’s 42-31 rebounding edge with six second-quarter rebounds.
The Aces didn’t truly pull away until the second half, but the foundation for their runaway was built largely by three lesser-known players.
“Our guys, in practice, have been working hard,” East coach Joe Jackson said. “We’re still pushing to try to get more out of each guy every day. We didn’t actually rotate (players) tonight as much as we did. When everybody is locked in, we’re 10, 11 deep.”
South (5-2, 2-2 City League) used an 8-0 run to cut an 11-point East lead to 23-20 midway through the second quarter. East (4-0, 4-0) responded by scoring 13 points over the final 3:07 of the half; the only starter to score during that stretch was Zach Jackson.
The rest of the offense was provided by McKinney and Dixon, who each scored during a 6-0 East run that pushed the lead up to nine. With less than a minute to go, Raymond O’Day’s three-pointer – another basket from a non-starter – put the Aces ahead 34-23.
“We play as a team,” Kelly said. “I can’t score without the team, so it was good to move the ball around.”
The ball eventually found its way back to East’s starters, as Kelly scored eight of his 19 points in the third quarter and Zach Jackson had five points in the fourth. East’s depth wore down the Titans, who couldn’t keep up with the fast pace the Aces established.
South was also worn down, to the relief of Joe Jackson, by East’s defense. The unit was absent for much of the game but locked in during the third quarter, holding South to three baskets.
Some of the missing intensity was used elsewhere, like on East’s 19 offensive rebounds, which created many second-chance opportunities.
“You feed off defense,” Joe Jackson said. “When the defense makes big plays, that carries over to executing better offensively, playing with just a little bit more spark – harder cuts, better, more crisp passes and taking care of business.”
EAST: Jones 13, Kelly 2, Dixon 5, Jackson 19, Kelly 19, Hartley 7, O’Day 3, I. Fralin 4, McKinney 5. Totals 32 (4) 9-14 77.
SOUTH: Donart 10, Hudspeth 7, Lee 11, Turner 3, Griffin 1, Gunter 11, Taylor 5, Harris 1, Lewis 6. Totals 16 (4) 19-29 55.