The Memphis East boys basketball team is arguably the most talented AAA squad in Tennessee and the Mustangs have begun to peak. That means tall tasks are ahead for the teams just as determined to net a state crown.
On Tuesday night, Cordova took its shot, with a chance to advance to the state tournament on the line. The Wolves, however, fell way short. They could not offset the talent and height of the Mustangs, coming up on the short end of a 72-41 blowout.
East High School was the venue for Monday’s Tennessee State AAA Division Sub-State basketball game. Fans started arriving as early as two hours before the start of the game. At one point, the line to enter the East gym extended at least a quarter of a mile.
The game featured a chance to see two of the best guards in the city go against one another – East’s Alex Lomax and Cordova’s Tyler Harris. Lomax has committed to the Wichita State Shockers while Harris remains high on many colleges’ radar, including the one operated by Tubby Smith and the University of Memphis.
The Mustangs had a balanced attack with four of the starters scoring in double digits – Ryan Boyce (10), Chandler Lawson (12), Lomax (25) and James Wiseman (17).
Determined not to let Harris find any type of comfort in his game, East smothered him with taller players and picked him up at half court. Harris, who has been known to make very long range three-point shots, Harris struggled in the first half, missing all ten of his shot attempts. He finished the half with one point, going 1 for three from the free throw line.
Lomax came into the game with the mindset that it was his game and committed to putting the team on his back and leading the way to victory. He finished with 17 first half points, including a three-point basket as the horn was sounding to give the Mustangs a commanding 41-12 halftime lead.
In the second half, the Mustangs’ objective was to work the inside and take advantage of the height and strength of Wiseman. Wiseman scored at will on the Wolves.
East head coach Penny Hardaway said, “We are getting better as the year has gone on. You are supposed to be peaking at the right time and right now is the right time. Tyler Harris is an unbelievable player. To try to play him one on one or two on one is always a challenging task. It was a great win for us.”
Lomax had the challenge of defending Harris for most of the game.
“Tyler is a great player. Alex is a great player. People are always trying to put those two against one another. So when you have these duels you are supposed to show up,” Hardaway said. “Alex showed up on both ends tonight.”
The Mustangs were in knockout mode to start the game.
“We were going to throw the first punch and we were not going to stop punching. You can’t let Tyler get any room. He can beat you by himself, by getting you in foul trouble and knocking down shots. Not to take away from anyone else over there. He is such a great player we were going for the knockout early.”
Now the Mustangs have a shot at a three-peat as state champions.
“It is truly a blessing,” Hardway said. “One day one this year we had three-peat on our minds. I didn’t put a lot of stuff in early. I just wanted the guys to feel themselves out and we failed. We lost three games in a row. That has never happened to me in my life. To come back and work back and put some zones in, to put some pressure in and some good man to man defenses in, we got back on track.”
On the play of Boyce, Hardaway said, “Ryan is just a basketball player. He understands that this is a big game. He has never won a championship and he wants to win one really badly.”
In other Memphis area high school games.
- The Mitchell High School Tigers traveled to Jackson, TN. to face Jackson South Side. The run of six straight state tournament appearances came to an end when Mitchell lost 47-44.
- MASE coached by former Memphis Tiger Marcus Moody will be making its first state tournament appearance after defeating Middleton 84-58. Arecko Gipson led the way with 36 points and 16 rebounds for MASE.
- Hamilton High School, which changed classification this season from the AAA division to the AA division, will make a return to the state tournament after a convincing 65-29 win over South Gibson. Second year coach Will Smith has his team thinking championship and bringing a state championship banner back to the school.
- Faragi Phillips, the head coach of the Whitehaven Tigers, thought he had the team to compete against the Memphis East basketball team. However, key injuries greatly reduced the depth and versatility. Despite that, he has guided his team to the AAA division state tournament after a 53-51 win at Bartlett High School.
- The No. 2-ranked team in Class A in Tennessee will get a chance to be No. 1. The Douglass Red Devils defeated Humboldt 98-56 at the Douglass gym. Red Devils coach Gregg Williams said, “We teach our guys to keep going hard and keep playing defense. We have to stop so much fouling (and) that will help us tremendously. All year long we have been pushing defense, defense, defense. Defense creates easy baskets.”