Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 1, 2011



On a night where they would carry the East St. John offense, it was fitting that Joseph Williams and Chester Victor would be the heroes of the game’s final moments.

Williams’ shot in the lane with four seconds left gave East St. John a two-point lead, and Victor’s steal of the ensuing inbounds and subsequent foul shots gave No. 16 seeded East St. John a hard fought, emotional 40-36 victory over visiting Southwood in the bi-district round of the Class 5A playoffs on Friday.

“Our best scorer got the ball in his hands with a chance to win at the end of the game. I don’t know if you could have wrote it up any better,” said East St. John coach Yussef Jasmine. “This was a real, real physical game. We executed down the stretch though and it happened for us.

Said Williams: I knew I had to get the ball and get to the rim. I got a good look at it.”

The Wildcats were tabbed four a second round matchup with top-seeded St. Augustine, which was to host ESJ Tuesday night after press time.

The District 6-5A champions, East St. John (21-12) had fallen short of advancing in the playoffs in each of the last three years under Jasmine, making Friday night a breakthrough performance.

“We’ve got the monkey off our back,” said Jasmine.

Williams scored a game-high 17 points and Victor scored 12 in a contest where points came at a truly expensive premium. The Wildcats were held to just two field goals and five points in the third quarter and were held to three points until midway through the fourth quarter.

Neither team had many clear shots at the basket on the night.

Southwood (19-10) used that defensive effort to erase a 23-16 halftime deficit. East St. John (21- led 28-25 entering the fourth quarter, but Southwood took its first lead of the night at the 5:54 mark of the fourth quarter on free throws by Herb Atkins that made it 31-29. Kevin Daniels made it a four point game on the team’s next possession, driving and scoring, and Sheldon Pettaway made it 34-29 with a free throw moments later.

Rashad Green and Williams each made one-of-two free throws to cut the lead to 34-31. Then, with 3:53 remaining, Williams canned a 3-pointer from the wing to tie the game at 34.

“For a lot of the game, we were in a zone because we felt like that gave them problems,” said Jasmine. “But it slowed us down, it’s not the way we typically play. Near the end, we were able to start getting some shots finally

Pettaway went to the line and lifted Southwood back into the lead with a pair of free throws. But the Cowboys were whistled for offensive fouls on each of their next two possessions and couldn’t add to the lead.

“We’re a great defensive team,” said Williams. “We go hard on defense every day. It’s what we rely on.”

Said Jasmine: “Every timeout I remind them how good we are defensively. When you look at the NBA, Boston, Chicago, Miami, all your top teams play great defense. We forced over 20 turnovers tonight.”

Williams made one-of-two at the line to make it 36-35. Then Williams tied the game with 1:22 left, making a free throw –- a potential go-ahead free throw was negated when ESJ was whistled for a lane violation.

At the other end, Southwood missed with 47.6 seconds left. East St. John saw its own chance to go ahead slip away when the Wildcats were whistled for a charge with 25 seconds left.

But Southwood turned the ball over with 19.5 seconds left, setting the stage for Williams, who barreled into the lane and converted a floater with four seconds left to the excitement of the ESJ fans.

“I saw nobody was open, and I was helping on some other people,” said Victor. “When he made the pass … thankfully, God blessed me with the quickness to go steal it.”

Southwood attempted to inbound the ball into the backcourt, but Victor shot into the passing lane and came up with a steal, drawing a foul and sinking two free throws to clinch the win.

Daniels led Southwood with nine points. Brandon Ward scored seven.

Victor scored 10 of his 12 points in the second quarter – the last 10 points of the period, helping to net his team a seven-point halftime lead.

“It goes back to (Thursday) at practice. Coach Joe (Williams) wanted to talk to me and so I said, okay, I can talk and shoot,” said Victor.

“I got some extra shots in. It paid off tonight.”

Said Jasmine: “It’s been like that all year. Kids put in the work and they see instant results. It’s a testament to the process.

“Tonight, we enjoy this win. Then tomorrow, Sunday, Monday, it’s about preparing to go get a win against St. Augustine. This is a great moment. But the process goes on.”