In this chase to a City League title, the role of KeAndre Champion to this East boys basketball team has never involved flashy plays.
The junior doesn’t score points in bunches like Tyas Martin and Samajae Jones, play as smooth as Zach Jackson, rebound like Traevon McGairty, or block shots like Xavier Kelly.
But none of those players made the shot that could potentially lead East to its first City League championship in seven years.
That would be Champion, who came off the bench late in the fourth quarter to take — and make — his only shot of the game, a corner three-pointer that lifted the Blue Aces to a 66-61 victory over Heights on its home court.
East swept the season series with Heights to remain undefeated, at 12-0, in the City League and extend its lead over the Falcons to two games with four to play.
“That took some guts to take that shot,” East coach Joe Jackson said. “But he didn’t hesitate and knocked it down. That just shows how much we’ve grown as a team. The guys really believe in each other.”
When Champion entered the game, East was reeling.
The Blue Aces had let their 14-point lead in the second half wilt away due to tentative play that led to an abundance of unforced turnovers.
Heights has developed a knack for the comeback and feasted on East’s passive play. The Falcons whittled the lead down to 55-54 as the two-minute mark in the fourth quarter approached.
East was desperate for points and it looked like Jones would provide them when he penetrated into the interior of Heights’ defense, but he pulled the ball out. What he discovered when he reset was the collapsed defense was scrambling and had left Champion by himself in the corner in front of East’s bench.
“My dad and my coaches always tell me to stay ‘turned up’ and keep my intensity up,” said Champion, who spent the majority of Tuesday on the bench. “When I do get in the game, then I’ll be ready.”
Jones swung the ball to Champion, who gave no impression as a reserve known primarily as a defensive stopper. Upon catching the ball, Champion did not hesitate to rise and deliver the shot that ultimately swung the momentum to East’s favor.
“As soon as I caught it, I knew it was going in,” Champion said. “All I had to do was follow through.”
Heights remained persistent, clawing until it finally had a possession to tie the game after Kelly missed a lay-in with seven seconds remaining.
After the rebound, Heights found an open Tre King (team-high 15 points) for a game-tying three-pointer. The attempt bounced off the rim to Heights, which produced another quality shot, this time by Chris Lowe, only to have it bounce out.
East sealed the game with a 20-for-25 performance at the free-throw line.
“We had enough determination and fight, we just didn’t have the big make-a-bucket, make-a-free-throw moment,” Heights coach Joe Auer said.
East: Jones 8, Martin 26, Jackson 12, McGairty 0, Kelly 6, Fralin 7, Champion 3, Dixon 2, Caw 2.
Heights: Hervey 10, King 15, Bell 10, Gill 9, Wilbeck 5, Ellis 6, Johnson 4, Lowe 2.