It’s the infectious smile from Jaylen McCoy many East Memorial basketball fans patiently waited to see.
And for most of Wednesday’s AISA boys Class AA semifinal game against Restoration, McCoy’s facial expressions resembled nothing but frustration.
It wasn’t until nearly two minutes into the second half that the EMCA faithful got their wish.
At Huntingdon’s Roland Arena, McCoy ignite a game-changing, third-quarter surge and finished with 24 points to propel East Memorial into the state championship game with a 52-35 victory over Restoration.
The Wildcats (27-3) will attempt to capture the school’s first state crown Friday against Eastwood at 8 p.m.
After going 0-of-7 from the field through the first two quarters, McCoy finally had a shot down at the 6:18 mark in the third, a layup in the lane that rolled around the rim before eventually falling in.
“It was frustrating that I couldn’t hit my shots,” said McCoy, who had two points at halftime. “It was a sigh of relief. …my confidence had gone up, and my teammates kept giving me confidence. At halftime, coach just told me to come out and play and relax and that’s what I did.”
That was all the sophomore guard needed to get things going. He scored 21 points — including 13 straight at one stage — during a 22-3 run to close out the period to give the Wildcats a 38-25 advantage.
“It got him going because I looked at him and I could tell,” EMCA coach Scott Phillips said. “It was a tale of two different halves. I knew once he got going, he was going to get going. He liked when we switched up our offense and went to the 1-4 (scheme) and that changed his attitude a little bit.”
To say East Memorial’s opening half was dreadful would be a complete understatement. The Wildcats misfired on countless makeable shots and played like a deer in headlights to only increase the confidence of Restoration (9-15).
“I could see the frustration on their faces in the first half,” Phillips said. “The thing that made the difference was that the kids responded and they were coachable.”
But despite the poorly executed first half, East Memorial only trailed 22-16 at the break.
“You have to give credit to that team in the other locker room,” Phillips said. “They came prepare and they got after us in that first 16 minutes. It was difficult because we were getting to the rim and getting shots, but they were not going down.
“It was tough because our plan was to make them hit outside shots and they did.”
Jerry Coleman and Mike Calhoun combined for 18 points for the Bulldogs, who managed just two points in the third quarter and were outscored 36-13 after halftime.