For nearly two hours last night, there wasn’t a single second of silence in the East gym.
The student section filled the bleachers, decked in a sea of suit jackets and poodle skirts from the mixed themes of SEC Gameday and Sock Hop, holding up home-made posters and larger-than-life cutouts of players’ heads. And they refused to stop cheering.
They filled the gym with a steady roar for both halves. They gave the Lancer Dancers a standing ovation at the end of their halftime routine. They cheered loudly enough to drown out the MaxPreps representative’s speech as he gave the football team recognition for becoming a nationally ranked team.
And when senior Lucas Jones pulled down his fourteenth — and final — rebound of the night, with eight seconds left on the scoreboard, the crowd completely exploded. The Lancers beat SM West 60-56, keeping their winning record alive at 6-3.
The first half of the game proved difficult for both teams, struggling to find offensive rhythm and capitalize on easy shots under the rim. At the half, both teams remained under 20 points, with East leading by six, but a late hammer dunk by West senior Louis Rollins left the Vikings with increased momentum going into halftime.
Then Jones came alive in the second half. He scored seven points in the first half, which steadily kept East ahead of the Vikings. Jones scored the same amount in the third quarter, helping to ignite the Lancers’ offense as they pulled ahead by as much as 19.
Although Jones led an offensive charge, the Lancers’ defense anchored the team as they lengthened their lead. Senior Jack Flint kept the team alive by forcing turnovers and diving for 50/50 balls, while sophomore Zeb Vermillion worked with Jones down low for a combined seven blocks in the paint.
Midway through the fourth quarter, the Lancers held a ten point lead, and the game looked almost over.
But it wasn’t.
West had made adjustments throughout the quarter, finding ways to let Rollins and senior Tyriq Gunnels cut into the paint for clutch layups. Meanwhile, junior Mark Ward left the game after taking a hard hit out of bounds. Then, Flint fouled out.
And West began to stage a comeback.
Without Flint and Ward, the Lancers’ defense was tired and overworked trying to keep up with West’s pair of speedy point guards. Back-to-back scrappy steals by senior Zach Witters put the Vikings within four points, which just over a minute left in the game.
But in the end, it wasn’t enough.
Jones’ presence in the paint shut down Rollins in the final minutes, when it counted. And when West was forced to foul the Lancers, they made their free throws.
It came down to desperation plays. Witters charged the basket, throwing up a layup that bounced off the rim and into Jones’ arms.
The buzzer sounded. The game ended. And the East crowd, just like always, found a way to cheer just a little bit louder.