The public-address announcer at East High issues a very clear, simple warning to fans before each varsity basketball game.
No matter what happens, don’t come on the floor.
Tuesday night, in the fourth quarter of East’s 63-58 win over Heights, they had to be reminded.
You can blame that particular ruckus on high-flying East junior Xavier Kelly and two monstrous second-half dunks, including one where he jumped from one side of the lane, under the hoop, and finished on the other side with one hand.
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“We never want the crowd running on the floor or anything like that,” East coach Joe Jackson said. “But that’s a testament to how impressive of a dunk that was by Xavier we’ve had to stop practice a few times because he’s done stuff like that, where our guys get so hyped up we just have to press pause for a second.”
There was no pressing pause for the Falcons as East improved to 8-0 behind 29 points from Samajae Jones and 15 points and 9 rebounds from Kelly, a 6-foot-5, 240-pound forward committed to play football for Kansas State.
“We came out ready to play, and high-intensity practices make games much easier,” Kelly said. “We get after it in practice, then in games things come naturally.”
Heights (6-2) managed to hang with the Aces for one half, tying the score at 20-20 on an Arie Johnson basket with 55 seconds left in the half, but East went into the locker room with a 22-20 lead thanks to a basket by Kelly.
The third quarter wouldn’t be as kind to the Falcons. Heights opened the second half on an 8-0 run with a three-pointer by Jones, a two-handed slam by Kelly, a dunk by Jones and a free throw from Zach Jackson for a 30-20 lead. Both dunks came off Falcon turnovers.
“It’s all about the third quarter,” Heights coach Joe Auer said. “We didn’t respond to East’s pressure. Give them all the credit we backed off, we were soft. It’ll get better, but it’s all about what happened at the start of the third quarter. They put pressure on us and we didn’t respond.”
Leading 43-29 after three quarters, East kept that pressure on in the fourth quarter. With just more than six minutes to play, Kelly caught an outlet pass on the left wing with a slight step on Heights’ Davon Gill to the hoop. Gill, also 6-5, closed quickly and leapt to the rim at the same time as Kelly.
“At first, I wanted to go straight up on him to try and dunk, but he was going higher than I thought he could, so I made the decision to keep going,” Kelly said.
“Yes, in mid-air,” Kelly said, laughing. “Then I just finished it on the other side.”
Several rows of East’s student section spilled on the floor after the dunk, which gave the Aces a 46-35 lead and drew a rebuke from the PA announcer.
“We fed off of that, you could see our guys get a little more locked in on defense after that,” Joe Jackson said. “A big play like that does something for your team.”
“It’s exciting to play for East, with our crowd and the way people get into games,” Jones said. “Big plays like the one (Kelly) made, we love that.”
Heights mounted a run at the end of the game, after Joe Jackson pulled his starters with 3:00 left and a 58-42 lead, getting within 60-54 on back-to-back three-pointers by Chris Lowe before the Aces’ starting five went back in to finish the game off.
“Coach had a great scout for us this week, he knew every tendency for the guys from Heights on offense, gave us exactly what to look for,” East senior Terence Caw said. “One guy would go left, one guy had a jab-step and then pull-up jumper, one guy likes to jab right and take it to the hoop that was all coach.”
Lowe led Heights with 18 points. Gill added 16 points and Semaj Hervey finished with 10.
“In the journey of the season, this will make us better,” Auer said. “Give all the credit in the world to East and their kids for how they came out in this league, you better be willing to attack the basket. We didn’t, and that’s disappointing.
“I know from experience, that if you’re gonna have a great season, you better respond when you make mistakes.”
HEIGHTS: Hervey 10, Lowe 18, Johnson 2, Ellis 2, Gill 16, Bahner 6, McCray 4.
EAST: Jones 29, Caw 3, Jackson 9, Kelly 15, Fralin 5, Eckels 2.