After a slow start, Ethan Powers came through in the clutch Saturday to lift Eastside to a 59-57 win over J.I. Burton in a Cumberland District boys basketball playoff at Rye Cove.
The win gave Eastside (20-3) the No. 1 seed in next week’s Cumberland tournament and the district’s automatic berth in the following week’s Region 1D tournament.
Eastside and Burton (17-6) split their meetings this season and shared the regular-season title.
CHECK AND CHECKMATE
Like a chess match between two brilliant basketball minds, Burton coach Aaron Williams and Eastside coach Patrick Damron drew up move and counter move throughout the game played in front of a raucous crowd.
It was no different at the end of regulation.
Burton had the perfect play in the waning seconds. From underneath the basket, a long inbound pass to the Raiders’ Mikey Culbertson was on the mark. Culbertson beat the Eastside defense to the basket on the other end of the floor and laid it up to put Burton up 52-49 with 8.3 seconds left on the clock.
That gave Eastside just enough time to get the ball back down the court and into the hands of Powers at the top of the key. He released his 3-point shot just before the buzzer sounded, and it hit nothing but the bottom of the net.
The dramatic contest went into overtime tied at 52.
“Obviously, that was the deciding play of the game,” Damron said of Powers’ buzzer-beater.
Powers, who struggled with his shot at times, scored seven of his 20 points on that buzzer-beating 3 and the first two baskets of the overtime period.
“I was struggling at the start of the game, but coach always says the next one is going in and I just had to keep shooting,” Powers said. “When I got the ball at the end of the game, I was just thinking, ‘This one has to go in.’ ”
Powers’ first two baskets in overtime put Eastside up 56-52 with just over two minutes left to play, and the Spartans kept that lead until the end.
“Powers made a big-time shot at the end of the game,” Williams said. “They made those first two baskets in overtime, but I thought we battled back from that. It was just a possession game.
“This was a good game for us to play. We’ll learn from it and we’ll use it in the district tournament.”
MAKING THEIR POINTS
In addition to Powers’ 20 points, Nick Livingston finished with 18 for the Spartans and Connor Blevins added 17.
Burton got 20 points from Caleb Williams, Houston Thacker scored 16 and Culbertson had 14.