After East finished off its 71-61 win in Saturday’s Class 6A sub-state final against Manhattan, the defending-champion Aces looked like a team expecting to return to the state tournament and defend its crown.
East’s players celebrated briefly with parents and fans before heading to the locker room, where the real celebration began.
“It was crazy,” East’s Xavier Kelly said of the locker-room scene. “Everybody was loud and going crazy, but this is just the beginning. This is just the first step going to state. We’ve still got to take care of business there.”
The festivities almost didn’t happen, though.
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After seeing its lead balloon to 14 points late in the third quarter at 52-38, East watched Manhattan come all the way back, as the Indians ended the third on a 6-0 run and began the fourth with eight straight points to tie the game at 52-all.
But the Aces responded with a 7-2 run of their own, capped by a three-pointer from Ray O’Day – his fourth of the night – to lead 59-54 with 3 1/2 minutes remaining.
East closed out the game by making 14 of 18 free throws in the fourth quarter to finish off the win and stamp their ticket to Thursday’s quarterfinals at Koch Arena.
“The guys were pretty excited,” East coach Joe Jackson said. “It really feels to me that we’ve come further with this team. It feels the best, maybe, out of all of them.”
East got a game-high 20 points and 11 rebounds from Kelly, who faced double teams throughout the night as the Indians did their best to bottle him up, many times leaving openings for East’s guards on the perimeter. The Aces made 7 of 15 three-pointers in the win.
Manhattan was led by point guard Trevor Hudgins, who finished with 17 points.
Jackson said his Aces did well to come out of one of the more difficult 6A sub-states.
“We felt like this sub-state was the toughest sub-state in Kansas,” he said. “When we dropped to the four seed, and to come through a really tough Derby team and then obviously Manhattan is just unbelievable – they’ve had an outstanding year. It really felt goodtonight.”
East began the game by making its first 10 field goals to lead by as many as 12 in the first quarter.
But Manhattan fought back from the free-throw line as East racked up 14 first-half fouls, many of which came nowhere near the basket. East led 35-27 at halftime.
“Good teams adapt to officiating,” Jackson said. “The other night at our first-round sub-state game, we were able to play a little more physical, and tonight they called it a little bit tighter. We’ve got to do a better job of adapting to how the game’s going to be called.”
East: X. Kelly 20, O’Day 19, McKinney 10, E. Kelly 6, Jenkins 6, Caldwell 4, Stanford 4, Fralin 2.
Manhattan: Hudgins 17, Awbrey 13, Ekart 12, Munsen 7, Ostermann 6, Roberts 5, Carmichael 1.