Call this the “Not Yet” game for Southeast. The Buffaloes seemingly were allowing their run of City League boys basketball dominance to come to an end, with an inexperienced team losing three of its first four games.
But with its 72-64 win over the defending City and Class 6A champion Heights, Southeast showed it isn’t ready to pass the torch or let its season become a wreck.
“You should never underestimate Southeast’s program — never,” said Buffaloes guard Joseph Randle, the only returning player who earned regular minutes for Southeast last season.
“No matter who’s on the team, no matter how many starters you have back, as long as you have someone who remembers what happened the year before ... everybody on this team knows how Southeast has been.”
Heights, which beat Southeast in the state title game nine months ago, returned a significant portion of its roster. But the Falcons are without guard Evan Wessel, who has a broken hand and could return after Christmas.
Though sophomore Perry Ellis scored 33 points, Heights couldn’t match Southeast’s balance. The Buffaloes had five players with at least nine points, led by sophomore Gavin Thurman’s 14.
“We have to have that,” Southeast coach Carl Taylor said. “We’re a young team, and we’re learning on the job.”
Southeast scored the last six points of the first quarter — including a 70-foot heave by Ronnie Presley at the end of the first, and never trailed again.
Troy Brooks kept the momentum with the Buffaloes by making three three-pointers in the second, and a Gary Thurman’s threepoint play gave Southeast a 35-25 halftime lead.
“(Presley) made a tremendous shot,” Randle said. “We were all hyped about that, the crowd was hyped and it changed the momentum a lot, so we did feed off that.”
The lead got as high as 62-44 when Southeast’s Kevin Gunter executed a three-point play with 5:32 left in the fourth.
But Heights had a “not yet” moment of its own, scoring 14 of the next 16 points to make it 66-60 with 2:17 to go. The Buffaloes managed to pull away after that, starting with a Gary Thurman baseline jump shot over the 6-foot-8 Ellis.
“They’re going to get a run,” Randle said. “It’s not going to be all one-sided. But can we handle the run, that’s what we were asking ourselves. But we stayed under control and kept the game in our hands.”
Ellis had support from Heights guards Terrence Moore and Dreamius Smith, who combined for 25 points and led the second-half run by scoring 18 after halftime.
Performance at both lines contributed to Heights’ first City League loss since the 2007-08 season — the Falcons shot 8 of 20 from the free-throw line and missed all 11 three-point attempts.
“We knew that we were going against a cornered team tonight,” Heights coach Joe Auer said. “You don’t go into Southeast and expect anything other than a great game. They made tough shots, they out-competed us on the glass. We give them all the credit and we move onto the next one.”
The next one for Southeast is a Friday game against another CL favorite, East. That gives the Buffaloes another opportunity to prove significant roster turnover hasn’t permanently damaged them.
“It’s a tremendous amount of pressure to continue to keep it going,” Randle said. “We don’t want to be the ones, ‘Man, this year was a total disaster, nothing went right.’ We don’t want to be the ones to go down with that history.
“There have been City League championships, state championships, all of the above. We don’t want to be the ones not to keep that going.”