TOPEKA – On a night where East’s shots weren’t falling for more than a half of Friday’s Topeka Invitational semifinal against Highland Park, the Aces turned to their defense.
Trailing 28-25 at halftime and 34-25 early in the third quarter, East forced nine Highland Park turnovers in the third quarter to turn things around on the way to a 70-54 win at Highland Park.
With the victory East (11-0) advanced to Saturday’s 5:30 p.m.championship game to meet defending tournament champion Lawrence, an 82-62 winner over Kansas City Washington in the second semifinal. Lawrence (12-0) and East are ranked 1-2 in Class 6A by the coaches association.
East’s defensive pressure allowed the Aces to take a 42-38 advantage at the end of the third quarter, then East broke the game wide open in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Scots 28-16.
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“That’s kind of our game, we like to run a fullcourt press and really get after it but we had to back it off in the second quarter because we got in foul trouble,’’ East coach Joe Jackson said. “We ended up taking a lot better angles in the second half and played smart defensively without fouling.
“We definitely feed off our defense.’’
And once the Aces’ defense got going the offense followed suit.
East ended up a respectable 26 of 59 from the field and 6-foot-5 junior Xavier Kelly and 6-5 senior Zach Jackson both had huge nights for the Aces.
Kelly finished with 29 points and 11 rebounds while Jackson added 22 points and eight rebounds.
Junior Jahlil Osby was the only player in double figures for Highland Park, finishing with 10 points, but the Scots had six players with at least six points.
Southeast 54, Topeka 49 – Southeast let a 12-point lead get away and trailed 37-35 at the start of the fourth quarter before rallying down the stretch.
Southeast jumped out to a 21-9 advantage midway through the second quarter and led 25-16 at the half before the Trojans used a 21-10 third quarter to take their first lead of the night.
There were three lead changes early in the fourth quarter and ties at 40 and 42 before Southeast used an 8-1 run to take a 50-43 lead with 2:21 left. The Trojans got no closer than four the rest of the way.
Southeast junior Jerrick Harding, who had 41 points on Thursday, led the Buffaloes with 21 points Friday while junior Milan Brown added 19 points.
Brown had 17 points in the second half, including nine straight for his team in the fourth quarter.
“That’s what he’s done for us all year,’’ Southeast coach Melvin Herring said. “He can do those things and that was Milan’s basketball tonight.
“That’s the consistency we expect from Milan. He’s learning the game of basketball and just understanding his role and that was his role tonight and he stepped up big for us.’’
Senior Josh Barber led Topeka with 16 points while no other Trojans had more than seven points.
East: Jones 9, Caw 2, Jackson 22, X. Kelly 29, I. Fralin 1, McKinney 2, O’Day 2, E. Kelly 3.
Highland Park: Keith 6, A. Fox 6, D. Fox 6, Kingcannon 8, Osby 10, Rayton 2, M. White 4, Towsend 6, Box 2, Williams 4.
Topeka: Parker 4, J. Barber 16, Denney 7, Ramierz-Jennings 2, Whitlock 3, Jackson 6, Long 1, Emanuel 6, Madden 4.
Southeast: Harding 21, Cobbins 2, Brown 19, S. Barber 4, Oyugi 1, Wilson 7.