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East Lansing senior forward Malakai Matthews receives a congratulatory hug from head coach Ray Mitchell after the Trojans’ 82-55 victory over Sexton. (Photos by Gary Caldwell)
In early December, having just completed a successful varsity football career and with his senior basketball season just getting started, Malakai Matthews made a point of saying that this would be the year that East Lansing gets back to defending its home court. That visiting teams would not have an easy time if they thought a victory in the ELHS gymnasium could be theirs for the taking.
So when Matthews and fellow seniors Garrett Christensen and Tyrese Windham exited Tuesday night’s game in the fourth quarter, with the Trojans well on their way to an 82-55 victory over the Sexton Big Reds, the cheers from the student section and throughout the gym signaled a mission accomplished: a perfect 10-0 record at home.
Matthews, a physical 6-foot-5 forward who typically lets his game do the talking, was quick to credit his teammates for their ability to band together in games that weren’t decided until the last second, or maybe not even until overtime.
“We trust each other, and we’ve learned each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” Matthews said. “I really think that’s the biggest thing, playing off each other and knowing what works. Becoming brothers, instead of just teammates.”
Senior forward Tyrese Windham is all smiles after his 12-point effort against Sexton.
Though he did not score a point, Matthews pulled down nine rebounds and helped keep the Big Reds from penetrating the interior of the Trojan defense. Windham, on other hand, had an outstanding first quarter in which he scored eight of his 12 points: three on a basket and free throw after being fouled, and three more on a smooth left-handed jump shot from beyond the arc.
“It went like I planned it: go out and have some fun with my boys,” Windham said, flashing a smile of satisfaction, knowing he and his teammates are ready for the upcoming postseason. “We all play together as a team — not more, not less. Now it’s time for the playoffs and we’re ready to rock and roll.”
Christensen scored six points and grabbed four rebounds for the Trojans (17-2) who broke open a close game (10-9) in the first quarter with a 10-point run and never looked back. East Lansing led 37-22 at halftime and widened the margin to 61-38 entering the fourth quarter.
East Lansing seniors Malakai Matthews (from left), Garrett Christensen and Tyrese Windham embrace the Trojan logo at midcourt before leaving their home floor for the final time.
East Lansing junior guard Andrel Anthony led all scorers with 21 points while sophomore center Ethan Dunn contributed 10 points and six rebounds. Freshman Evan Boyd and sophomore Evan Sundermann made the varsity basketball debuts and scored four and two points, respectively.
Senior forward Tavarius Drake led Sexton (5-14) in scoring with 16 points.
Head coach Ray Mitchell said Friday’s loss to Everett (63-60) — which prevented the Trojans from claiming a conference co-championship — was not an easy one to get past but he’s confident in his team’s ability to regroup.
“We weren’t as focused as I’d like us to be (tonight),” Mitchell said, “but to finish ten and two [10-2] in the league says something. Any time you’re in the upper echelon, that’s good. We were right there.”
Marcus Wourman Jr. (left) and Andrel Anthony Jr. signal a victory for the Trojans, their 10th at home this season without a loss.
Mitchell also echoed his seniors’ thoughts on an undefeated home season.
“Last year we maybe won three games at home all year, and that was tough in a building that is used to winning,” Mitchell said. “We tried to at least establish that again, and I think we did.”
Next up: The Trojans travel to Heritage High School in Saginaw on Friday for their final game of the regular season. They begin district play next Wednesday, March 11, at St. Johns where they will face the host Redwings (1-18) at 7 p.m. Grand Ledge, DeWitt and Waverly are the three other teams who will compete for the district title to be decided on March 13.
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