The East basketball team that was lobbing alley-oops, swishing three-pointers and executing breakaway dunks on Friday night was the same one that allowed its energy level to dwindle at times against Southeast.
The Aces have the superior talent and depth to make the game look easy. They also appear to have a tendency to relax too much when big leads allow them to become comfortable.
East seems to have a liveliness switch available when it needs it, and it was turned on for most of its 75-52 win. The Aces scored the first 13 points and finished on a 34-11 run after Southeast tied it in the third quarter.
"Can't let them get complacent," East coach Ron Allen said. "Challenge them with sitting over there by me. If they're not hungry, if they're not running down loose balls, running the floor and playing good defense, they probably need to be over there with me."
Even though it was displeasing to Allen, the Aces sometimes had the luxury of taking it easy, as their athleticism and height often overmatched Southeast.
The Buffaloes took advantage of a less-enthusiastic Aces bunch in the third quarter, using a 12-2 run to tie it 41-41.
A tie score was twice a motivating factor for the Aces. Their 13-0 start was fueled by a breakaway dunk and a three-pointer by 6-foot-8 center Larry Dennis.
"That was big," East senior guard Jalen Love said of Dennis' first-quarter dazzle. "We've been telling him in practice, 'You've got to do this, you've got to do that,' and tonight he showcased a little bit of his talents."
After Southeast tied it in the third, East regained its vitality with its most important player providing steadiness.
Love, the linchpin of an offense that committed seven turnovers Friday, keyed the third-quarter run and allowed the Aces to carry it into the fourth. He had the first basket after the score tied and four points during East's 10-2 run to close the third.
A varsity player since his freshman year, Love has grown into a leadership role, and he found a variety of ways to accumulate 16 points while helping the Aces in less-tangible ways.
"It's a challenge for him to run the show and run the offense and be productive himself," Allen said. "I think he's doing a wonderful job at this point. I think it keeps his mind occupied at all times."
Allen did bench some starters for long stretches in the second half, allowing East's depth to flourish. Four Aces scored at least 11 points, and nine scored overall. Southeast also had four double-figure scorers but its two other scorers combined for four points.
Kevin Gunter and Reggie Smith helped fuel the third-quarter run while exposing a potential flaw in the Aces, albeit a fixable one.
"When we get a big lead, we can relax," Love said. "But with a team like that, you can't relax. They're still coming because they're down. With a team like that, we've got to keep bringing it to them, taking it to them and capitalizing and executing our plays."
Southeast (1-2, 1-2) 7 19 17 9 — 52 East (3-0, 2-0) 21 14 16 24 — 75
SOUTHEAST: Garnes 1 0-0 2, Oyugi 0 0-0 0, Gunter 5 1-2 11, Smith 6 0-0 13, Garland 4 5-7 14, Cooper 0 0-0 0, Wright 3 4-6 10, Henderson 1 0-0 2, Greene 0 0-0 0. Totals 20 (2) 10-15 52.
EAST: Love 6 3-8 16, Burris 5 1-1 13, Terrell 1 0-0 2, Sanders 0 0-0 0, Normore 3 0-0 6, Jackson 6 2-2 14, Griffin 0 2-2 2, Medlock 1 0-0 3, Brandon 4 0-2 8, Dennis 3 4-6 11, Hester 0 0-2 0, Nespor 0 0-0 0. Totals 29 (5) 12-23 75.