East’s Akeem Sulaiman shots over Service’s Toby Howard. Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report

Elite players are defined by their performance at crunch time, and East’s Akeem Sulaiman certainly looked the part Friday night.

The 6-foot-3 all-state senior scored 14 of his 20 points in the second half, including eight in the fourth quarter when the T-birds put their foot down in a 57-40 win over visiting Service.

Sulaiman did most of the heavy lifting in a late 12-3 run that pushed the lead to 57-35 and quashed a potential surge by Service, which showed signs of life late after looking lethargic in the first half.

Sulaiman sank four 3-pointers, two in the first quarter and two more in the fourth quarter. He also took the ball the rack on several drives, showcasing an all-around game that makes him one of the best players in Alaska’s Class 4A.

Michael George added 15 points for the T-birds and all-state junior Muhammed Sabally racked up nine points, four assists and two blocked shots. Sabally had a hand in 11 of his team’s first 21 points to spearhead a fast start and set the tone.

With the win, defending state champion East ran its record to 15-1 on the season and 8-0 in the Cook Inlet Conference.

CIC Boys Basketball

8-0 East 15-1
6-2 West 12-5
5-2 Dimond 10-6
4-3 Service 13-6
4-4 Bartlett 8-9
4-4 South 8-10
0-8 Chugiak 3-12
0-8 Eagle River 2-15

East raced out to an 8-0 lead and held Service scoreless for the first five minutes, thanks to swarming on-ball pressure buoyed by guards Laron Roberts and George.

On Service’s first six possessions, the Cougars coughed up the ball five times and missed their lone shot attempt. Toby Howard’s post bucket got Service on the board, but moments later the deficit was 13-2 after East got busy in transition.

Sulaiman knocked down a 3 and Sabally created his own fast break by throwing an inbounds pass 60 feet to Roberts for the layup.

The 6-foot-4 Sabally played wide receiver on the East football team last fall, but under these Friday night lights he looked more like a quarterback as he twice completed three-quarters of the court length passes to Roberts to beat the press.

Sabally also has a post-to-perimeter scoring game and showed that off in the second quarter with a 3-pointer and tough take in traffic in short succession as East’s lead swelled to 23-6.

East’s Muhammed Sabally attacks the rim. Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report

Meanwhile, the T-birds were tenacious on D, hounding ballcarriers, bothering shooters and clogging passing lanes.

George, a 5-foot-10 senior, was a problem on both ends of the court. His energy and effort on defense were effective and his scoring gave East a lift, especially during a stretch between the end of the first half and beginning of the second half when he scored 10 points during a 12-3 spurt.

A streaky scorer, George pumped in five points in 10 seconds after drilling a deep 3 and then stealing the ball and going in for a layup. He also turned a steal into points on Service’s first possession of the second half to push East’s advantage to 34-13.

Service (13-6) never found its groove, although there were flashes. Howard, a 6-foot-7 junior, finished with nine points and was the only Cougar to make a field goal in all four quarters. He showed a nice touch around the basket and combined with sophomore Leyton Lockard to score all 13 of their team’s points in the first half.

Service’s Leyton Lockard looks for room while being defended by East’s Michael George. Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report

Senior Mackeenan Morgan had nine second-half points and hit Service’s first 3-pointer of the night with one minute left in the third quarter, capping a 12-6 run to get the Cougars within 43-26.

Back-to-back buckets by Howard pulled Service as close as 13 at 45-32, but that’s when Sulaiman stepped up to seal the deal and keep the T-birds unbeaten in the CIC.

SERVICE (40) – Howard 9, Lockard 8, Morgan 9, Dillard 6, Henderson 4, Westlake 4.

EAST (57) – Sulaiman 20, George 15, Sabally 9, Tharjiath 8, Roberts 4, Johnson 1.

Service 4 9 17 10 – 40
East 14 18 12 12 – 57

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