(East's Willard Anderson hangs in the air to finish in traffic against South Park)
Last season, the Yale Cup remained at McKinley after the Macks completed a second straight season with an undefeated record in the city. When the sectionals arrived, McKinley had to face South Park for a third time, and while the Macks prevailed to advance to the Class A1 Final, the Sparks flashed their potential on the big stage. With a ton of talent back from that team this season, South Park came into this season with aspirations of overtaking McKinley for the Yale Cup, and ended the Macks' league win streak with a one-point victory on December 22nd. But bringing home the hardware in the city is a grind, as the Sparks found out when they visited East on Monday. Despite sweeping the Panthers a season ago, it was East who took control and moved to the top of the Yale Cup standings.
East used a high scoring start to the game to build a lead and came out of halftime the same way, downing the visiting Sparks, 90-77. The win improves East to 6-3 overall and 4-0 in Yale Cup I, now tied for first place with defending state champion Middle College. South Park slips to 5-4 and 3-1 in league with the loss.
Willard Anderson scored a team-high 35 points, dished eight assists, and had five steals to lead East, who never trailed in the game. The Panthers started hot and took a double figure lead before the end of the opening quarter, with Anderson doing most of the damage early on. The junior, who is averaging 30.77 per outing, scored 16 points in the first eight minutes, including a stretch of nine straight points.
"Last year we had his number, but he's gotten a lot better," said South Park coach Peter Hudecki. "He's a great player."
Anthony Stevens added seven of his 13 points in the opening frame for East, who led by as many as 14 points before taking a 29-17 lead into the second quarter. Despite getting balance offensively with five different players scoring for the Sparks in the first stanza, their defense was non-existent and they didn't match the Panthers' intensity out of the gates.
"We came out really flat," said South Park coach Peter Hudecki. "They wanted it bad after last year."
South Park slowed the Panthers at the start of the second quarter and made some progress on the scoreboard, limiting the transition game. The Sparks cut the deficit to just six points, 41-35, with under two minutes remaining before halftime and had kept Anderson scoreless for six minutes. However, a 3-pointer by Jahahd Maryon spurred a 9-3 finish to the half by East that included a buzzer beater & another five from Anderson who went to the break with 21 points and his team up 50-38.
The Panthers picked up where they left off when the third quarter began. Anderson canned a pair of 3-pointers for East, while Stevens added another as part of an 18-7 push. Justin Allen scored eight of his 19 points in the quarter and also ripped down 14 rebounds in the contest. With 2:37 left in the third quarter, the Panthers had extended their lead to 23 points, which they maintained as the teams made their way into the final stanza with East in front, 77-54.
"I'm disappointed in the way we played," Hudecki said. "I don't think we played as hard as we could - we need to learn how to fight."
A bucket by Stevens and a pair of free throws from Allen gave the Panthers their largest lead of the game at 81-54 early in the fourth quarter, before they began trying to run some clock and extend offensive possessions.
"This was big after they beat us twice last year and knowing they beat McKinley already this year," said Anderson.
The Panthers have been scoring at a high rate this season, averaging 77 points per outing through nine games. With two games over 100 this season and 77 points scored through three quarters, the century mark sure seemed in reach again on Monday. However, poor free throw shooting left several points off the scoreboard, as East connected on just 12 of its 28 charity tosses. That's one area they will need to be better in with aspirations of a lengthy postseason for a team that scores, moves the ball well together, and defends for four quarters.
"We all play big roles on this team - I've got to give all the thanks to our seniors," Anderson said. "Everyday in practice and school they keep our head right so we can get after it on the court."
Shakur Harris finished with a game-high 39 points, scoring 15 in the fourth quarter and converting a remarkable 18 of 19 free throw attempts. The Sparks as a team shot 26 of 32 from the stripe. Freshman Anthony Mack added 12 points for South Park, doing all of his scoring in the first half.
East travels to Emerson on Thursday and faces Cardinal O'Hara in the MLK Classic on Saturday at City Honors. South Park continues Yale Cup I play on Thursday when they visit Riverside.
South Park 17 - 21 - 16 - 23 = 77
East 29 - 21 - 27 - 13 = 90
East: Willard Anderson 35, Justin Allen 19, Anthony Stevens 13, Waunya Shaw 9, Shawndale Williams 6, Romello Colbert 4, Jahahd Maryon 4
South Park: Shakur Harris 39, Anthony Mack 12, Ellijah Winston 9, Elijah Lewis 8, Raymond Mushat 7, Donte Ridgeway 2