East’s lead over Derby on Thursday night always seemed to correspond with Derby’s level of discomfort.
As East raced to an eight-point first-quarter lead, Derby appeared disheveled, hurrying shots and not always passing with care. East’s lead continued to grow, to a 60-42 win in a Class 6A sub-state semifinal, and Derby never regained its balance.
East plays at Manhattan on Saturday with a 6A Tournament berth on the line.
East held Derby to 11-of-45 shooting while making 25 of 44. The Blue Aces controlled the tempo defensively by often forcing Derby into quick shots, and offensively through methodical possessions that went through senior post player Xavier Kelly.
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“That’s a really good club,” East coach Joe Jackson said of Derby. “That, honestly, was probably the most complete game we’ve played this year. I would say 28 out of the 32 minutes, we were pretty solid. At this point in the season, that’s the most complete game we’ve played so far.”
After Derby passed up multiple open shots in the second quarter, Panthers coach Brett Flory urged his players during a timeout to play more assertively. That didn’t seem to be a problem the rest of the way, as Derby took more shots than East despite two more turnovers and14 more free throw attempts.
East’s fierce defense made most of those shots difficult, as the Aces held Derby to one basket in the third quarter to stretch an eight-point halftime lead to 41-25.
“Defense wins games,” Kelly said. “We knew that, so we really worked on it hard all week in practice. We knew defense was going to win this game, and that’s how we won tonight.”
The defense created transition opportunities, but East mostly excelled in the halfcourt. Derby assigned multiple defenders to Kelly, a 6-foot-5, 255-pound forward, but his back cuts that led to alley-oops were essentially unguardable.
Even though Kelly was occasionally frustrated by the defense, he got going with two first-half dunks and finished with 18 points in 9 of 13 shooting, along with 10 rebounds. He had 12 points and seven rebounds in the second half.
East followed Kelly’s lead in efficiency, as all but one of seven players who took at least three shots made half or better. Michael McKinney scored 12 for the Aces, who made 9 of 9 free throws.
“We’ve tried to get our kids all year to believe that defense leads to offense,” Jackson said. “When we get stops, that can really swing things in a game. We’ve really preached that all year and it really turned out to be true tonight.”
Derby: Wright 12, Petrisor 2, Tabor 6, Packard 2, Worley 2, Gordon 16, Conner 2.
East: Stanford 4, McKinney 12, Jenkins 4, O’Day 8, Valentin 3, Kelly 18, Hartley 7, Caldwell 4.