Third time is the charm for Tigers in playoffs
The East Feliciana Tigers and St. Helena College and Career Academy Hawks met in Jackson Feb. 22 for the third time this year in the first round of the Class 2A state basketball playoffs. In previous games between the two rivals, the home team was on the losing end.
Particularly painful for the Tigers was a home loss to the Hawks on a buzzer-beater early in the season. This time, East Feliciana, the visiting team, won 77-62.
The Tigers came in with a record of 16-9 as the 13th seed and the Hawks entered the contest with a record of 10-13 and the 20th seed. A full house at the East Feliciana gym was rocking early as the fans from St. Helena started the “Let’s Go Hawks” chants before the game started only to be drowned out by the home crowd’s “Let’s Go East Fel.”
The first quarter started out with a bang as Maleek Chriss nailed a 3-pointer. After trading buckets, including another 3-pointer from Chriss, the first quarter ended with the visiting Hawks ahead of East Feliciana by a score of 14-13 with multiple early lead changes.
St. Helena took the lead early in the second and East Feliciana ran into a scoring slump where they could either not convert or turned the ball over and fell behind the Hawks.
Tigers coach Chris Ezebunwa inserted JaColton Perry into the game late in the second and he responded with two clutch 3-pointers to get the Tigers to the half with a 30-29 lead. Associate head coach Desmond Jefferson noted that, “JaColton knocked down some big shots that kept us in the game early.”
Second-half action saw the intensity level pick up for the Tigers in the third period. Senior Cedrick Anderson owned the boards thus reducing the number of shots by Hawks ace 3-point shooter Kedron Martin. Coach Jefferson said the halftime message was simple “we need rebounds to eliminate second-chance opportunities. Cedrick Anderson is a 4-year starter who scored over 1,000 points during his career and though the shots were not falling he fought through.”
Martin finished the game with 25 points but did most of his damage in the first half. Both teams continued to fight through multiple lead changes in the first part of the third and were tied at 33 with 5:32 remaining when Martin was fouled on a layup and converted the free throw to give the Hawks a 36-33 lead. Chriss responded with multiple 3-pointers and Anderson made three tough inside baskets to put the Tigers up five.
Fred Muse, of the Hawks, was able to narrow the score to 44-41 with 2:20 left in the third but another barrage of scoring by the Tigers Dedrick Lee and JhaVont Perry put the Tigers ahead 51-43 to start the fourth.
The fourth was all Tigers as Maleek Chriss reigned 3-pointers from the corner, Cedrick Anderson and Caleb Anderson pounded the boards and dove for loose balls, and Perry and Lee picked up baskets inside. The lead rose to 19 points at one time and the Tigers held on to win 77-62 to break the home team jinx in this series.
Chriss led the Tigers with 34 points.
“Maleek and the rest of his teammates struggled with injuries throughout the year. You could tell he fought back hard, got in a good rhythm and pulled us through tonight,” Jefferson said.
The coaches were especially impressed with Perry who “stepped up to the challenge to guard the Hawks best player” Kedron Martin. Jefferson said that throughout the season, his “guys stepped up through the injuries and they embraced the next man up program philosophy. We got over the hump though we started slow, but the kids are buying into the system and the results show.”
What the East Feliciana Tigers did last Friday is beyond winning a three-game series with a rival in the next parish. One could not help but notice that only football championship banners hang in the East Feliciana gym. On this night, the East Feliciana Tigers won their first playoff basketball game and showed the promise for future basketball banners.