Eastside boys look forward to next season

Published: Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 1:09 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 1:09 p.m.

The Eastside High School boys basketball team came up short on its quest to win the second state championship in school history, losing Friday to St. Petersburg Lakewood 60-46 in the Class 5A state semifinal game in Lakeland.

The Rams finished the season with a 24-7 record under coach Pop Williams, who led the team to its fifth Final Four appearance in his 18 years at the helm of the program. The Rams' won the Class 5A state championship in 2006.

"I am extremely proud of this team," Williams said. "We only had two players, juniors Thomas Lundy and Marquez Ross, who had playoff experience."

The Rams' season included its eighth district championship under Williams, something he said should not be taken lightly.

"That's just like the Gators winning the SEC championship or FSU winning the ACC championship," Williams said. "Winning the district championship is a great accomplishment by itself."

In the game against Lakewood, the Rams were led by juniors Marquez Ross with 18 points and Darius Norman with 11, despite sitting on the bench the second period because of foul trouble. The Rams could never quite get going against Lakewood, but went into the fourth period down by only five points with the score 45-40. That would be the closest they would get as Lakewood outscored them 15-6 in the fourth to secure a berth in the championship game, where they were throttled 98-70 Saturday by Plantation American Heritage from Broward County.

Williams said losing senior leaders Seth Brown and Barry Johnson (a Bethune-Cookman University football signee) will be tough, but he said he has a great group of players returning who will be joined by some good younger players.

Williams said he will be looking for great things from Norman, Ross, Lundy, junior big man Michael Nobles, sophomore point guard Khalil Banton and freshman swing man Joseph McCray.

"We just need those guys to get better by playing bigger and better players in their AAU leagues and other things," Williams said. "Like Darius said after the game, we are going to start working on getting better right now."

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