Needing a win to boost its momentum heading into the playoffs, East’s boys’ basketball team had plenty to contend with Tuesday at Highland.
The Leopards got exactly what they wanted, overcoming a seven-point deficit late in the third quarter to defeat the Rams 64-55. East, which had won only five of its previous 10 games coming in to the game. East outscored Highland 23-9 in the fourth quarter, making four 3-pointers in the period and five in the second half.
“It’s a big win for us because we haven’t really put full games together,” said East’s Parker Van Dyke, who led all scorers with 25 points. “To play like we know we can was big momentum for us, now and moving on in the future.”
East, which was 10-1 earlier this season, moved one game over .500 in Region 6 play (5-4) with the victory. More importantly, the win helps the Leopards build for the playoffs, with the region finale next week.
Trailing 46-39, the Leopards (16-6 overall) used an 18-3 run into the fourth quarter to take control. Van Dyke and Mitch Grant hit consecutive 3-pointers to open the fourth, while Grant and Connor Pardoe duplicated the feat moments later. Highland came within 59-55, but went scoreless over the final minute of play.
“We needed to get back on a roll,” East coach Skip Lowe said. “We had some guys step up and knock down some timely shots. The thing about this team is they’ve had a lot of times where they’ve been in that situation. I have great confidence that they’ll be able to come through.”
Van Dyke, who was held to 13 points in a 51-41 home loss to Highland two weeks ago, scored 17 of his points in the second half. Despite missing the majority of his shots in the first half, he found his stroke when it mattered most.
“It felt good because we haven’t been shooting that well lately,” Van Dyke said. “That makes it so much easier on the other side to defend while you’re scoring. It’s good to go into the tournament with a couple of wins under you.”
Highland (7-2, 14-7), which had won nine of its previous 10 games, led 14-8 early, but the margin never stretched to more than that in the first half. The Rams opened the second half with a 12-3 run before the Leopards made their run.
Pardoe’s 3-pointer made it 50-49 and gave East the lead for good.
“I want to be playing our best basketball on Tuesday [region finale] and amp it up for playoffs,” Lowe said. “Highland will do great in the tournament and to be able to compete with them shows us we can win no matter the matchup.”
Grant finished with 14 points for East, while John Fakahafua grabbed 11 rebounds along with his six points. David Divver scored 17 points, including a pair of scintillating reverse layups, to lead Highland. Todd Connolly added 15 points and Riley Tucker had 11 points for the Rams.