The Patriots almost did.
East fell to an athletic Mount Bethel squad 55-47, but the Patriots had the game at the tempo they wanted and found themselves leading by one point at the half, 24-23.
Stanley Eze led Mount Bethel with a game-high 20 points, and Jordan Meka contributed 13 that included four emphatic slam dunks. Jayce Harrison provided the timely 3-pointers late in the fourth quarter and finished with 12 points.
“It was a fantastic effort out of our guys,” Sullivan East coach John Dyer said. “We did everything we wanted to do. They’re so athletic. (Eze) killed us. They hit some timely 3-pointers. We tried to build a fort and do the best we could.”
Adam Davison led Sullivan East with 18 points. Dustin Bartley had 10 for the Patriots, who actually outrebounded the taller and lengthier Eagles 26-20.
Mount Bethel grabbed a two-point lead at the end of the third quarter, but the Patriots had a real shot at the first-round upset.
The Eagles never relinquished the lead once they got it, though they almost choked it away at the free-throw line. Mount Bethel hit just 5 of 12 foul shots and let East get almost every defensive rebound down the stretch.
“We can play at different paces,” Eagles coach Cal Boyd noted. “We can play games in the 60s or in the 70s, but we like it kind of slow. I believe you have to execute offense in the halfcourt in order to win championships.
“They were a well-coached team and they run good stuff on offense,” Boyd said of the Patriots. “They have a lot of smart players.
“That’s what’s so great about the Arby’s Classic. You come here and you’re going to see a lot of different varieties in teams. We needed a game like this.”
Sullivan East had three opportunities down the stretch to cut the lead to one possession but was hurt by turnovers. The Patriots finished with 20 turnovers and just 15 made field goals.
The Patriots play Tabernacle Baptist at noon on Friday in an elimination game. Mount Bethel meets Bearden at 8 p.m.