East sent a message to the rest of the City Series boys basketball teams Friday night — don’t count us out.
Some might have done that after the Dragons graduated four seniors, returning only one starter from last season’s conference and district champions. But East still boasts plenty of talent, led by a sophomore point guard who figures to get better.
Derik Lewis, a 5-foot-9 dynamo, scored 29 points as East (7-5, 5-2) held off visiting Firestone 70-63, handing the Falcons their first City Series loss. Firestone (7-6, 6-1) is now tied for the lead with Buchtel, and both are just one game ahead of East.
East also avenged a 65-59 loss to the Falcons in its first game of the season.
“We knew we had to fight for the City, had to get back in shape,” Lewis said. “Had to get where we want to be in the conference. We’ve just been working harder, knew we needed to get hungrier. We know we’ve got to get better as a team.”
Lewis made four 3-pointers, had seven assists, seven rebounds and two steals. East had 10 3-pointers in the game.
“Lewis, for a sophomore, he has great composure,” East coach Ross Fiorello said. “He’s going to be a good one. If he keeps working hard and does the right things in the classroom, he’s going to be a good one.”
East led by 12 early in the fourth quarter, but Firestone 6-4 senior forward Kevin Gladney scored nine of his 23 points, including a steal and layup that cut the deficit to 62-60 with 1:17 left.
After two free throws by East’s Brandon Townsend — the Dragons made eight in a row down the stretch — Firestone’s Jerome Lane cashed in a three-point play to make it 64-63 with 35 seconds left.
Demetrius Ray’s two free throws put East back ahead by three. Kenyon Philpott then stole the inbounds pass and was fouled, sinking two more from the line and it was 68-63.
Lewis added an exclamation point with another steal and layup with 10 seconds remaining for the final margin.
“We were thinking, we’ve just got to get back as a unit,” Lewis said. “Get back as a team. Don’t get down on ourselves and don’t quit and just keep fighting.”
Lane, a 6-5 senior, shared the team scoring lead with 23 points, 14 in the second half. He had a game-high 11 rebounds.
Philpott, a junior who is four inches shorter than Lane, had the task of guarding him most of the night and scored 10 points with nine rebounds. Demetrius Ray, a 6-1 senior, added 12 points for East.
Firestone, playing without senior guard Chas Brantley who was lost for the season in December with a knee injury, was hampered by 17 turnovers.
“We got sloppy there in the fourth quarter, those last couple minutes,” Firestone coach Dave Milo said. “And you can’t afford to get sloppy against a team that can hit the 3 like East. You just can’t turn the ball over like that, especially at the end of the game when it’s crucial, and it hurt us.”
East led 30-26 after a back-and-forth first half. The teams traded scoring runs in the third quarter before a 15-3 spurt put the Dragons ahead 58-46 early in the fourth.
“We needed this,” Fiorello said. “In fact, the first big win was the other night with Kenmore. That was the one that scared me. We needed that one first before this made any difference. So luckily we got that one, and came back tonight and pulled this one out. If not, we’d be playing for a consolation prize and preparing for the tournament.”