East basketball coach Joe Jackson offers James Caldwell common instructions for Caldwell’s uncommon ability.
“Coach drills in my head – stay on the rim, stay on the rim,” Caldwell said. “It just comes natural.”
Caldwell, a 6-foot-4 senior, helped energize East with a breakaway dunk late in the first quarter. Then he provided the decisive points in East’s 54-53 win over Heights with another slam in the final 25 seconds.
Caldwell used his size to control the paint against the guard-heavy Falcons. He led East with 12 points and made the game’s most exciting plays.
“We’ve been seeing his potential, seeing his ability,” Jackson said. “He asserted himself, really, against Kapaun (last Friday). James had 11 rebounds against Kapaun the other night. We felt like that was really his coming-out party, and he’s starting to ooze confidence.”
Caldwell’s third-quarter dunk gave East (5-3, 5-3 City League) a 44-36 lead, one short of its biggest advantage, which the Aces achieved about a minute earlier. Heights erased it with a 17-8 run that tied it 48-48 with five minutes to play.
Heights (6-2, 6-2) took the lead on a Devin Davis three-point play with 3:39 remaining and held it until Michael McKinney scored in the final two minutes before another Davis basket gave the Falcons their final lead.
McKinney dribbled away from trouble as Heights lost Caldwell near the baseline. McKinney passed from near the three-point line to the opposite block, where Caldwell charged toward the rim with 25 seconds to go.
“We were going to run the clock down to about 14 seconds,” Jackson said. “We had a set play that we wanted to run. If we got in trouble or got trapped, we had timeouts still. We were going to call one if we got in trouble, but I wanted to kind of let them play.
“We wanted to space the floor. That wasn’t a set, that was just a lane that opened up. They were trying to pressure and deny, and we made a great diagonal pass.”
East turned a halftime tie into a 40-31 play thanks to invigorating plays from Caldwell, Elijah Kelly and Zion Fralin, who had four baskets in the first four-plus minutes in the third.
Heights seemed in big trouble because of its poor perimeter shooting and tentative transition play. The Falcons made 2 of 16 three-pointers and its guards were hesitant because East’s interior players blocked several shots.
But Heights rallied behind Davis and Braxton Kirkendoll, who had six fourth-quarter points. A Heights turnover led to Caldwell’s final dunk and the Falcons missed a deep three-pointer at the buzzer.
“If you tell me before the game that we’re going to make 2 of 16 from three and still (almost) win, I’d say you’re crazy,” Heights coach Joe Auer said. “…We’re not going to think too long about it. It’s pretty obvious what we need to get better and, and we will.”