York fans clung to the rails of the upper mezzanine because there simply weren't enough empty seats. A group of students stood courtside with the black and white letters of "Y-Town" painted across their chests in front of a nonstop chatterbox of cheerleaders.
Problem is, the Southside Tigers like this kind of party. Southside (16-9), winners of the Class AA championships in 2008 and 2009, took another step in its new division with a 78-67 win against the York Cougars in the Class AAA Upper State semifinal on Tuesday.
York's Jerry Holmes scored 28 points for the Cougars, but York (18-8) couldn't overcome a nightmarish night from the floor and a stop-and-start second half.
"When you shoot 3-of-26 from three-point land, you won't win many games," York coach Kendall McCarter said. "We just ran into a buzz-saw tonight."
Southside settled in with a 10-0 run to end the first period. Jalen Lawrence nailed a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Tigers a 21-16 lead.
York's Devin Johnson responded with a pair of three-point plays in the second period. The first cut the lead to 29-27, and the second tied the game at 31.
Holmes stole the ball on the next possession and went to coast-to-coast for a spinning layup that gave the Cougars its first lead. York held the 33-32 advantage at the half despite hitting just 1-of-13 from three-point range.
"We made a few shots and got deep in their zone defense," McCarter said. "Then what happened is we started settling for deep 3s."
The Tigers opted for a half-court trap to start the second half and vaulted to a 10-2 run with the help of three consecutive York turnovers. McCarter took a timeout at the 5:31 mark after Southside stretched the lead to 42-35.
The Cougars tried to ratchet up the tempo, and cut the lead to 46-40 after a three-pointer from Tony Thomasson. Southside, however, built a double-digit lead with three uncontested transition baskets. The Tigers led 52-40 after three quarters.
"We've been in games where we've been in this type of situation before," Southside coach B.J. Jackson said.
"We just told our kids to keep playing our defense, and things would go our way."
Southside's Jakoye Pinson opened the fourth with a two-handed slam. Pinson received a technical foul for hanging on the rim too long, but York couldn't cut into the double-digit advantage in the fourth period.
True to their postseason form, the Tigers made 20-of-23 free throws in the final quarter.
Quavius Copeland led Southside with 21 points, and four Tigers hit double digits.
Holmes poured in 17 more points in desperation time, but York's fate was decided. Thomasson scored 15 points, and Johnson added 13 for the Cougars.
"I told the guys after the game that I'm proud of them," McCarter said. "We were one game away from the Upper State championship game. That kind of thing hasn't been said around here for a long time."
York loses eight seniors to graduation, but McCarter hopes this group paves the way for more games with Tuesday's carnival atmosphere.
The class of 2011 includes Holmes, Thomasson, Johnson, Ty Dervin, Azivelle Smith, Zach Sharp, Brandon Hagins and Jonathan Spratley.
"This group came in as sophomores and worked their tails off," McCarter said.
"They went from 0-10 in the region to 5-5 and then 7-3. They got better and better each year, and I'm going to miss them dearly."
SOUTHSIDE 78, YORK 67
Southside - Jalen Lawrence 16, Donte Anderson 9, Keshawn Hudgens 13, Braylon Lloyd 7, Jakoye Pinson 12, Quavius Copeland 21.
York - Jerry Holmes 28, Devin Johnson 13, Azivelle Smith 2, Tony Thomasson 15, Reggie McClain 8, Brandon Hagins 1.
3-pointers - Southside 1 (Lawrence 1), York 3 (Thomasson 2, Johnson 1).
Team fouls - Southside 20, York 23
Records: Southside (16-9), York (18-8)