James Wiseman took over for East in the second half. (Photo: Terry Davis)

With post-season play looming and their sights set on a third straight state title, the East Mustangs traveled to Whitehaven on Thursday night. They were met by a team of Tigers feeding off the energy of a hostile crowd and eager to see an upset.

The Tigers employed a deliberate offense with the goal of slowing down the talented and nationally ranked Mustangs but fell 27 points short of their winning aim, losing 64-37.

In the teams’ first meeting, East romped to a 26-point (82-56) victory. Whitehaven’s slow-down strategy worked for the first period, which ended at 12-12. The game changed when Alex Lomax committed a hard foul on Whitehaven’s Mathew Murrell, who landed awkwardly on his hand and his head and had to leave the game. Murrell did not return and the Tigers were not the same team without him.

Lomax was called for a flagrant foul. The score was 19-15 after the Tigers made the free throws associated with the foul. The Mustangs turned up the defensive pressure and the Tigers committed several turnovers, with East taking advantage of the mistakes..

East took a 30-21 lead into halftime. After the break, the Mustangs’ talent and height were just too must for the Tigers to overcome.

The Mustangs’ James Wiseman took over in the second half. Two of the first three made baskets by East were dunks by Wiseman. Lomax was very aggressive throughout the game and made several crossover dribble and drives to the baskets that even impressed the pro-Tigers crowd.

Alex Lomax goes through his free-throw routine. (Photo: Terry Davis)

A 16-6 run by the Mustangs put the game out of reach in the third quarter. Lomax finished with 15 points and guided the Mustangs’ offense and defensive pressure. Wiseman had 23 points, 9 of which came in the third period. Wiseman showed some range hitting a three-point for his last points of the game.

Late-season injuries have seriously hampered the Tigers, who earlier in the season were projected to be a team that could compete with the talented Mustangs.

The Mustangs have taken their game to a higher level with the installation of two new components by East head coach Penny Hardaway. With man-to-man defense and full-court pressure have given, East has been able to control the tempo of most games.

The Mustangs will play in the Shelby County Championship on Saturday (February 10) at White Station High School.

The Mustangs (17-3) have moved back to No. 11 in the nation in the USA Today High basketball rankings. The Mustangs had been ranked No. 1 earlier this season. It was the first time a team from Memphis as been ranked No. 1 in the nation

Post-game quotes

James Wiseman: “I just wanted to go hard tonight and give it my all. I just wanted to be a monster down there tonight. I did well tonight, but I just need to improve on my rebounding.”

Alex Lomax: “I just came out and played my game. I took what the defense gave me. I made some shots tonight. I made my layups and that was just a bonus to help me stay on track. It is just a God-given gift to easily get to the front of the rim and a lot of hard work from me and coach Penny. It just feels normal and natural for me.”

On the regular season ending and hitting the reset on the post season, Lomax said, “Just a lot of experience. This is my fourth year doing this and I just want to guide my young and new guys so I can give them as much knowledge as I can, so we can go into this post-season strong.”

On the strong play of the defense, Lomax said, “We have a lot of fresh legs coming in off of the bench. We have guys with good defensive minds and we have a great defensive coach.”