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So I put out a pretty short and somewhat weaker blog last week, but man, do I have a good week to talk about today! With wins against Olathe North and SM West, East ended the week at 8-0. And they couldn’t have done it in a more exciting fashion.
On Tuesday, the Lancers pummeled a weak Olathe North team that was missing their best player. The final score was 58-38, but East led by almost double that for most of the game. Zach Schneider led the way with another clean offensive performance and fellow senior big man Chris Tuttle made his official return with four points and almost a full half of minutes after sitting the first half of the season with a torn meniscus. East played another well-rounded game in what was a dominant performance. But the beatdown of Olathe North was but a prelude to a much bigger (and ultimately better) game.
Last night, East crossed the district to battle the SM West Vikings at West. In the past four years, the East senior class developed a lot of bad blood with the West players, making this game one of the most anticipated all year for fans and players of both schools. But with all of the buildup to this match up, the game didn’t disappoint.
After West jumped out to a quick start built off turnovers and sharpshooting from star guard Jay Temaat, East regained composure and the game tempo slowed to a classic Sunflower League defensive brawl. After East tied the game at 10 in the first quarter, both teams stayed within a few points of each other for the rest of the game. Neither team had a clear edge in what became a physical, sloppy game.
Temaat played out of his mind in the first half. Always a great shooter, the senior guard seemed unable to miss for stretches, sinking enough fadeways, high-arcing threes and runners in the faces of Lancer defenders that some fans wanted to chant “One man team” at him. But on the other end, Schneider was matching him point for point.
As a classmate of Schneider’s since elementary school, I’ve seen him play a lot of good games. But I can’t think of a better performance in his career than the one he put on last night. In heart, mind and production, Schneider led his team in every way last, keeping his team in the game with big plays time and time again. Although the 6-foot-5-inch senior has been an efficient scorer for most of his career, he was especially so against the Vikings. He made almost every shot, knocking down mid-range jumpers, threes and finishing around the rim again and again.
Schneider had to carry East offensively in large part due to the Vikings’ pesky 2-3 zone, which hampered Vance Wentz and other perimeter players all game. With the zone limiting dribble penetration and open looks on the perimeter, it was up to Schneider and Lucas Jones to keep East in the game. The two star big men worked beautifully in the creases in West’s zone, establishing the best interior passing game they’ve had all season. It was a fine interior passes that set up Jones’ second and most impressive dunk of the season.
The game stayed tight right until the final seconds, when, after a free throw from Vance rimmed out, West hit a go-ahead floater with 10 seconds left, giving East time for one more play. What followed was possibly the best play I’ve seen in my time at East. After a time out by East head coach Shawn Hair, Schneider inbounded the ball to Vance, who drove virtually unhindered all the way down the sideline to the free throw line and sank the go-ahead jumper with three seconds left. It was the biggest shot of Vance’s career and sent the Lancer crowd into a frenzy, but the victory wasn’t complete until Schneider stole the Viking’s inbound pass on the next play, and, in an absolutely badass move, beckoned one of the best East crowds in recent memory to come join him on the court.
The victory last night against West was perhaps the best game I’ve seen in my high school career. But what does it mean? From a competitive perspective, nothing. East played a sloppy, turnover-prone, poor-shooting game and almost lost to a team they should have handled easily. We didn’t learn much about this team, except perhaps that they can handle pressure better than in previous years. But other games have taught us that already.
So what can we take away from this game, other than pure satisfaction?
Just check your twitter feed. If you follow anyone who attended last night’s game, you probably heard about the result. If you follow as many fans as I do, your feed consisted of nothing but tweets about the game. I believe junior Danya Issawi (@danyasawi) summed up the student body’s reaction best when she tweeted, “MAKE WAY FOR THE BASKETBALL TEAM” after the game last night. Her tweet shows the real significance of last night’s victory: it officially shifted the student body’s focus to basketball.
What was once a basketball school is now a basketball school again (sorry, football, soccer, etc.). Last night’s game put the student body behind this team more than it’s been in all my time here at East, during which we have seen a shift in the fans’ support from basketball to football. But basketball is back in the spotlight, and for good reason. East is 8-0, ranked second in the city by Metro Sports and has a legitimate chance to compete for a state title (knock on wood knock on wood knock on wood).
Next week, the Lancers head to McPherson as the top seed in the tournament there. It’s the first time they’ve had that seeding in my four years here. The bracket for the tournament looks favorable to East. Only McPherson (7-1) seems to present a real challenge to the Lancers. I will be there to commentate and perhaps even star in a highlight/talk show for smeharbinger.net. Originally, I thought I’d be one of a handful of non-players who’d make the trip to see East play. But after the flood of support that followed last night’s game, that looks quite unlikely.