JACKSON – The East Side Trojans and their faithful supporters piled into the Mississippi Coliseum here Saturday afternoon for what was the final game in school history as East Side.
Next school year, East Side will be merged with Cleveland High School as the Cleveland Central Wolves so this game was more than just a game for a state title. This game was East Side’s final shot at grabbing a boys’ basketball championship.
Despite their best efforts and overcoming a mountain of adversity all season, the Trojans fell short in their ultimate goal with a 46-32 lost to the Velma Jackson Falcons (27-6) in the championship game of the 3A State Boys Basketball Playoffs.
Trojans’ head coach Leroy Cotton spoke about how hard the team took the loss, especially with it being their last game as a Trojan.
“We talked about it being the last major sport contest here at East Side High School and how fitting it would be if we could go out with a state title. Right now, the guys are hurting because we couldn’t win it for our school,” said Cotton.
Although the Trojans closed out the season on the wrong side of the scoreboard, Cotton was still pleased with how they played.
“I’m proud of the guys' effort and the toughness they showed," Cotton said. "We didn’t shoot the ball well tonight and we struggled on offense and part of that was their zone defense, but overall I’m proud of those 15 guys in there."
The Trojans and Falcons came out in the first quarter and got after it with Velma Jackson taking an 11-10 lead into the second quarter.
East Side struggled mightily in the second quarter as the Falcons' defensive intensity picked up. The Trojans only scored off a three-point shot from Peyton Taylor in the period, while the Falcons were able to get 10 points to take a 21-13 lead into the locker room at halftime.
In the third quarter, the Trojans’ defense stepped up and they were able to pull to within six points as they trailed the Falcons 26-20 heading into the final period.
“We had a hard third quarter, mainly because we were so passive with the basketball. We did not attack their zone at all and that hurt us,” said Cotton.
In the fourth quarter, the Falcons proved why they have become the premier team in 3A boys basketball. Velma Jackson took advantage of East Side’s reluctance on offense and forced turnovers, which led to easy layups or dunks.
With 6:13 remaining in the game, Velma Jackson had pushed its lead to 30-20. The Trojans started to pick things up on offense, but by this time East Side was merely trading baskets with Velma Jackson.
In the fourth quarter, the Falcons outscored the Trojans 20-12 to pace themselves to a 46-32 win.
One of the biggest challenges for the Trojans did not occur in the half court, it came in the open court in transition where Velma Jackson outscored them 20-6 in fast break points.
“I thought we played well defensively," Cotton said. "If you take away the fast break and transition points, we would have been ok. They did not score a lot in the half court set, but we weren’t aggressive enough on offense. We knew what we were going to see, but for whatever reason we didn’t attack it the way we should have."
The Trojans shot just 30-percent from the floor (13-of-43), which included a 2-of-14 (14-percent) performance from the 3-point line. They were perfect (4-o-4) from the free throw line.
On the other side, Velma Jackson shot an impressive 51-percent from the floor (21-of-41) with most of those points coming in the paint. In fact, the Falcons outscored the Trojans 34-18 in the paint.
Velma Jackson led for 28 minutes and 35 seconds of the game’s 32-minutes.
Taylor led the Trojans with 17 points on 6-of-15 shooting. He was 1-of-6 from the three-point line and 4-of-4 from the charity stripe. He also added three steals in the loss.
Joining Taylor was Kamarian Williams who finished with 10 points on 5-of-10 shooting with six rebounds. The only other Trojan to score was Kierre Jackson who finished with five points on 2-of-8 shooting and 1-of-2 from the three-point line. The rest of the team finished 0-for-10 shooting from the floor.
East Side finished its final season at 22-12.