The euphoric screams. The did-we-just-do-that smiles. The motions to orchestrate even more pandemonium from the student section on East’s senior night.
It was like a dream for Nathan Jackson. It was the same scene that was unfolding in his head on a loop leading up to Tuesday night.
But this was real. Surreal, even. He held the winning game ball in his hands and tossed it upward, where the scoreboard told the story: East 57, Heights 51.
The streak was over.
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“It was just like what I’ve been dreaming about,” Jackson said. “We knew we were gonna get them when we see them at home, this was how it’s going down. It happened exactly how we dreamt.”
Opponent after opponent had crumbled in the wake of No. 1 Heights’ state-record 62-game winning streak.
But on Tuesday night, East shed itself of its former troubles. This wasn’t the same team that suffered a three-game losing streak and lost back-to-back games against North and Southeast.
“Tonight was about the real East High,” said Ron Allen, the Blue Aces’ coach. “These kids have faced a lot of adversity this year. I’ve been on them hard. But it seems like they’re finally starting to get it and buy into everything that we do. It’s so good to see them be rewarded with a win like that.”
East made 10 of its first 19 shots, as senior Jalen Love scored 12 of his 27 points, and buried Heights in a 25-10 hole in the beginning of the second quarter. For the first time this season, Heights didn’t look like the most talented team on the floor.
“Just look around our locker room and we have more talent than anybody,” Jackson said. “If we can just put it together, we knew we could be the most dangerous team in the city. We can beat Heights, we can beat anybody.”
But like any champion, Heights mustered one last run. It started in the third quarter, slowly crawling its way back in the game. Then Perry Ellis struck in the fourth, tying the game at 45 with 4:49 remaining on a tip-in.
Ellis led the Falcons in a virtuoso performance of 30 points and 13 rebounds, including making all 12 of his free throws.
“I don’t think our guys ever thought they were going to lose,” Auer said. “We always felt like we were going to be able to win.”
Senior Terrence Moore said it best after the game: “We just didn’t respond like we usually do.”
East senior Kimron Burris buried a corner three-pointer to break the tie. When the opportunity presented itself — Larry Dennis missed the front-end of his 1-and-1 attempt with East clinging to a 52-51 lead with 32 seconds left — Heights failed to capitalize.
The miss took a hard bounce left, into the hands of Jackson. He was fouled and made both of his free throws for a three-point lead.
“You think about it, but you’ve got to love that pressure,” said Jackson, who finished with 10 points. “I love it. I feel like it’s all on me. I get to decide the outcome of the game.”
On its tying attempt, Heights produced an open shot for Moore on the wing. But he misfired, as he did on all five of his three-point attempts on the night.
Before the magnitude settled in, East turned the rebound into a run-out. Seconds later, the East gymnasium was in mayhem after Love scored and was fouled. With 13 ticks left, East was up 6.
“It never feels good to lose,” Ellis said. “But it’s basketball, it happens.”
“Teenagers live in the moment and in the moment they were really sad,” Auer said. “This has been an amazing experience, but it was never our goal to have a winning streak. It’s not what we’re about. This doesn’t change anything for us.”
What may seem insignificant to some, means everything to others.
“This is crazy,” said Love as he surveyed the madness of the East students rushing the court. “We knew we could be the ones to do this. It’s a great feeling, but it’s not over.”
8141514— 51East 21121014— 57
HEIGHTS: Lynch 0 0-0 0, Moore 2 3-7 7, Bell 1 0-0 2, Thurman 5 0-0 12, Ellis 9 12-12 30, Reed 0 0-0 0, Smith 0 0-0 0, Lattimore 0 0-0 0. Totals 17 (2) 15-19 51.
EAST: Love 10 4-5 27, Terrell 1 0-0 2, Jackson 3 4-4 10, Dennis 4 0-1 9, Brandon 2 0-0 4, Burris 1 0-0 3, Martin 1 0-0 2, Haynes-Jones 0 0-0 0, Normore 0 0-0 0, Hester 0 0-0 0, Nespor 0 0-0 0. Totals 22 (5) 8-10 57.