A “championship hangover” is talked about often in sports and for good reason. It’s a difficult transition to go from the hunters to the hunted, and East Marion is still learning how to adjust.
The Eagles (3-13, 0-3) had two opportunities for statement wins last week against Region 8-2A opponents expected to finish near the top of the district standings and let two fourth-quarter leads turn into a pair of losses.
It began Jan. 7 at North Forrest where the Eagles had a late lead with possession of the ball trying to run out the clock, but they played sloppy down the stretch and allowed North Forrest to send the game to overtime. In the extra period it got even worse as North Forrest outscored East Marion 10-1 and beat the Eagles 60-51.
“We chose to go overtime through poor shot selection and decision making,” head coach Calvin Brown said. “Then when we got to overtime the emotional letdown (of not winning in regulation) was too much to recover from, and we threw the ball to them every possession. We may have taken two shots in overtime, and the rest were turnovers.”
Caleb Rawls, playing for the first time in more than two weeks since suffering a bone bruise, returned to his dominant self and led the Eagles with 19 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks. Devin Daniels added 12 points, Carlos Stubbs had nine points and eight rebounds and Cameron Walker chipped in six points and seven boards.
The Eagles also had a double-digit lead in the second half against St. Patrick Friday night on their home court before letting the Fighting Irish come back and win it 51-49. While the majority of East Marion’s rotation has experience closing out wins, Brown said the team’s collective ego is keeping it from finishing games.
“We still have the mindset of last year’s team of where when we get people down now it’s time for the exclamation point, and we’re going to go on the last run and get the highlight dunk or the dagger 3,” he said. “Our margin of error is just very, very slim this year, so now when we have a lead we have to place 10 times more value on the basketball and we’re doing the exact opposite.”
“The team that won deserved to win, and the team that lost deserved to learn from it,” Brown added.
The counting stats were once again impressive for the Eagles, led by Rawls’ 14 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks. Stubbs added 13 points and Walker 12, but East Marion shot a combined 1-of-16 from the 3-point line.
Brown compared the Eagles continuing to take shots from behind the arc even though they aren’t going in to a child wanting to touch a hot stove.
“You can tell them over and over and over that the stove is hot, but until they touch it — even if they do believe you — their curiosity isn’t going to keep them away from it. We’re still trying to prove to ourselves that we can shoot our way to victory from behind that 3-point line,” he said.
Brown said he would hate it if it took a season-ending loss for the Eagles to finally understand that they’re not going to win by shooting from distance.
While the Eagles are yet to turn the corner and start piling up some wins, Brown said he believes their chances are still as good as any at claiming the Region 8-2A title in the district tournament.
“I’m hoping (the St. Patrick loss) will prevent us from learning that lesson in the district tournament because we’re still all bunched in there together. Our district is going to be decided at the district tournament regardless of seeding,” he said. “Of course you always play to get yourself a better seed and get yourself a shot to get in the playoffs and advance, but it’s going to solely come down to who is playing the best in that second week of February.”
The Eagles have just five more opportunities to improve their standing in the district, all within a 16-day span. It began against Collins on their home court Tuesday night, but results were unavailable at press time.
East Marion will take on Collins again Tuesday before playing host to Perry Central Jan. 24.
Pictured Above: East Marion's Carlos Stubbs finishes a layup despite being fouled. | Photo by Joshua Campbell