Wichita East boys will play in the Class 6A semifinals at 8:15 Friday night at Koch Arena, and that’s great, right? East hasn’t played in a semifinal since 2008 when it finished third.
But you know what’s even more spectacular? East advanced to that semifinal game with a 70-59 win over Wichita Southeast, its archrival.
East and Southeast have played some classic games over the years, but to face each other in the state tournament, the emotion was ratcheted up dramatically. Throw in the fact that on Feb. 27, in the season finale, East’s perfect City League record was sullied with a loss to Southeast, and the emotion was intense.
So when asked how sweet it was to advance, senior Tyas Martin instead wanted to talk about beating Southeast.
“We had a chip on our shoulder from last game,” said Martin, who had 20 points, hitting 7 of 11 field goals. “They played a good game. We just wanted to come out and win this game to keep them from moving forward in state.
“It’s a rivalry. It’s been there since before I was playing high school and middle school. We’re just keeping up the tradition, keeping the hype up.”
Martin wasn’t alone in his sentiment.
When East junior Zach Jackson, who had a game-high 25 points and hit 4 of 5 three-pointers, was asked about how happy he was to win, he, too, focused on the rivalry.
“First of all, it’s just good beating Southeast,” Jackson said. “They just beat us, and I don’t know if you’ve seen on Twitter, all the rivalry talk, but this was a big game. We focused more on them than getting to the final four (in 6A).
“We’ve got respect for each other, but deep down inside, we hate each other. But we respect each other. It’s what makes it fun.”
The rivalry is also what made the loss even more painful for Southeast senior point guard EJ Garnes, who had 11 points and continually was a threat to dissect the defense in order to find a lane to the basket.
“It hurts a lot,” Garnes said. “ To lose that, especially to them, it’s just burning me right now.”
There were blocked shots, including three by Southeast’s Dequan Love and two by East’s Xavier Kelly. And steals. And players diving on the floor for loose balls, trying to preserve every possession.
The game mirrored East’s practice on Feb. 28, the day after the loss at Southeast.
“We had the best practice we had the entire season,” East coach Joe Jackson said. “The kids battled hard. Kids were diving on the floor. The assistant coaches and I looked at each other — ‘we’ve got something special right here.’ They took it so hard, and they came in the very next day, laying their guts on the line.”
East (21-2) has played near-perfect games this season, only to stumble and become lackadaisacal.
It didn’t happen in the quarterfinals, though.
“We were switching defenses from time to time,” Jackson said. “They had to be locked in, and I think it helped us.”
It also didn’t hurt that East’s offense clicked, hitting 22 of 43 shots, including 4 of 11 from three.
Zach Jackson opened the game with a three-pointer and hit a late three in the second quarter.
While Southeast’s Jordan Murdock, who had 22 points, made a three at the second-quarter buzzer to pull within 31-29, Jackson hit two straight threes in the first 1:25 of the third quarter and East started pulling away.
“Zach’s always been a great shooter,” Joe Jackson said. “This year he’s been in more of an attack mode. He’s been driving to the rim because his shot hasn’t been falling. Tonight we saw how well he can shoot.”
Southeast made one more run, getting to within 41-36 when a falling Murdock hit a jumper just inside the three-point line with 3:02 to go in the third.
But on East’s next possession, Martin drove inside, scored, was fouled. His three-point play put East up 44-36 and Southeast didn’t inch any closer.
“To come out in the third quarter, 10 fouls right off the bat, it’s just unheard of,” Southeast coach Melvin Herring said. “It plays on the kids’ minds. It weighs you down physically.”
While East shot 22 of 36 from the free-throw line, Southeast was an even more dismal 15 of 32.
Highlights, including all fan video
Wichita Southeast fans
East junior Zach Jackson
East senior Tyas Martin
Wichita East coach Joe Jackson