There were moments in East’s boys sub-state final battle with Topeka on Saturday when the host Blue Aces desperately needed to respond.
The Trojans had taken a powerful first punch from East in the opening quarter, and they were within a couple plays of tying the score or even taking the lead.
“We came out really strong,” East senior Tyas Martin said. “But this is sub-state, and nobody wants to lose. We had to come back and turn our defense back up, and fight hard.”
Martin provided one of the key plays, a layup off a turnover after the Trojans had pulled within three in the third quarter. East answered another threat early in the fourth with a 16-2 run that sealed its 66-50 victory and a berth in the Class 6A tournament for the second consecutive season.
East (20-2) had four players in double figures, led by Martin’s 15 points. Samajae Jones added 13, including a jumper that ignited the fourth-quarter run. Xavier Kelly scored 12 points and Traevon McGairty finished with 10.
Topeka (13-9), which was led by Tyrece Parker’s game-high 18 points, led 5-0 after a pair of baskets by Joshua Barber. But with Kelly blocking shots and the Aces scrambling to force turnovers with full-court pressure, East scored the next 19 points and led 21-9 after the opening quarter.
The Trojans countered with their own defensive pressure, and steadily worked their way back into the game.
“We were trying to get them sped up a little bit and take some quick shots, and it worked a little bit,” Topeka coach Pat Denney said. “That’s what got us in rhythm ourselves offensively.”
The Trojans, who trailed 31-24 at halftime, cut their deficit to 33-30 on a fastbreak layup by Parker. Parker scored 11 points in the third quarter. But Martin’s transition basket off a Trojan turnover started a 6-0 run that pushed the lead back to 39-30.
Topeka reserve Aishontis Sanders, who scored 12 points, made one of his two three-pointers to slice East’s lead to 50-46 with 6:20 remaining. But Jones, who scored 25 points in East’s semifinal victory over Washburn Rural on Thursday, answered with a 15-footer that bounced high off the rim and fell through.
From there, East forced three of the Trojans’ 21 turnovers, and set sail on their run that put the game out of reach. Despite making just 3 of 14 three-pointers, East shot 49 percent from the field and outrebounded the Trojans 33-28, including seven from reserve forward Musa Mutazammil.
Next up is a 6A quarterfinal game Thursday at Koch Arena. That was the point the Aces’ 2012-13 season ended with a loss to Shawnee Mission East.
“I think we’re capable of winning it all,” Jones said. “We’ve got to come out and not be nervous. We’ve got to come out with intensity and not let the other person come out and punch us in the mouth first.”