MCDONOUGH — Leading North Clayton 10-9 at the end of the first quarter, Eastside appeared ready to fight for its life with the season hanging in the balance Monday night in the first round of the Region 4-AAAA tournament.
After splitting their two regular-season matchups with North Clayton with each team winning on its home court, it was the Eagles of North Clayton gaining control of the game in the second quarter and never looking back in a 61-53 win over Eastside.
Spending much of the season ranked inside the Top 5 in Class AAAA, the loss for Eastside ends their season short of the state playoffs for the third straight year.
“Totally disappointing,” Eastside head coach Michael Gerald said. “We never saw this coming. We knew that we would make it to state. It’s just totally disappointing that we didn’t get an opportunity to see what we could do against other teams around the state.”
Standout junior Myles Rice was responsible for the majority of Eastside’s offense Monday night. Rice scored 12 of Eastside’s 17 first-half points and ended his night with a game-high 26 points on 9 of 17 shooting. He also grabbed 12 rebounds and stole three passes.
A sluggish first half for the Eagles didn’t prove costly on the scoreboard. Despite only shooting 26 percent from the field and connecting on just 1 of 13 from beyond the arc, Eastside only trailed North Clayton 22-17 at the break.
North Clayton maintained its five-point lead midway through the third quarter and eventually took full control of the game over the next two minutes.
Leading Eastside 29-24 with 4:37 remaining, North Clayton scored the games’ next 10 points in a span of two minutes, a run Eastside was unable to recover from.
“We didn’t get stops,” Gerald said of his team’s play in the third quarter. “We didn’t score enough offensively. We just put ourselves in a tough spot. (North Clayton) is senior layden and we knew what they were playing for like we knew what we were playing for. They had enough show up when we didn’t.”
Trailing North Clayton 41-29 heading into the fourth, the deficit grew to 14 points, 45-31 before Eastside was able to trim it to single digits, 52-43 with under three minutes remaining in the game.
Eastside’s late charge was little too late as North Clayton was able to connect on free throws down the stretch to hold off Eastside for an eight-point victory. With the win North Clayton will face No. 1 seed Woodward Academy in the Semifinals.
Despite shooting a much better percentage from the field in the second half (15 of 32), the Eagles’ defense had no answer the North Clayton trio of Derrius Martin (24 points), Jermaine Lattimore (13 points, six rebounds and three steals) and Xavier Valley, who posted a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds.
Eastside’s Jaylen Johnson was the only other Eagle to reach double figures with 10 points, seven of which were scored in the fourth quarter.
The Eagles were without star sophomore forward Chauncey Wiggins, who suffered a foot injury less than two weeks ago and junior guard Jaylen Woods, who was also out with a season-ending injury sustained earlier this season.
Gerald said he and his staff will take time to reflect on the season in the coming weeks and hope to be ready to go for their summer schedule following a break in the upcoming AAU season.
“We’ll take some time off,” Gerald said. “Guys will be going to their AAU programs. We told them that we hope they go to a great program so that they can get what they need from it and not just play games. When we get back for our summer work, guys will be better.”
We just have to get everyone healthy now. We don’t want to be in a position like this again where you have such a promising season and then have things happen like they did.”