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HomeSportPrep Hoops: Sabally/Sulaiman syndicate powers top-ranked East in 4A boys final to...

Prep Hoops: Sabally/Sulaiman syndicate powers top-ranked East in 4A boys final to secure T-birds’ 19th state title

East’s Muhammed Sabally leaves his hand up after draining a 3-pointer. Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report

There were lots of games this season when the East boys basketball team was carried by Muhammed Sabally and plenty more when Akeem Sulaiman did the heavy lifting.

Saturday night, they shared the workload and helped the T-birds hoist another trophy.

Sabally produced 23 points and nine rebounds while Sulaiman bagged 16 points and 12 rebounds to lead defending state champion East over Thunder Mountain 60-34 in the Class 4A boys state tournament title game before in front of a crowd of 4,000 at the Alaska Airlines Center.

Much of the crowd split the scene before the final horn as the top-ranked T-birds put this one to bed early behind a near-perfect performance to cap a 28-1 campaign, finishing the season on a 19-game winning streak.

East also extended its winning streak against in-state competition to 30 games dating back to last season – the fifth-longest among Cook Inlet Conference teams.

4A Boys All-Tournament
Armani Smith, Monroe Catholic
Toby Howard, Service
Thomas Baxter, Thunder Mountain
Muhammed Sabally, East Anchorage
Des’Laone Cook, West Anchorage
Jett McCullough, Monroe Catholic
Samuel Lockhart, Thunder Mountain
Akeem Sulaiman, East Anchorage
Leyton Nield, West Valley
Michael George, East Anchorage

The 3-and-D T-birds got it done by outscoring Thunder Mountain 18-6 from range and shutting down Falcons’ all-star Thomas Baxter (10 points) and holding the Juneau team to 30% shooting.

“We just did a fabulous job at the defensive end,” East coach Chuck Martin said.

The T-birds’ defense cuts opponents and leaves its guts on the court. They take away your strengths, chase you off the 3-point line and blanket your top scorer.

Baxter, a 6-foot-3 all-state senior playmaker, was instrumental in getting Thunder Mountain to its first state final after leading the Falcons to back-to-back overtime wins against fourth-ranked West Valley and second-ranked Service in the first two rounds. He looked gassed Saturday.

Never mind his legs, he needed to find a superhero’s cape against East.

Baxter didn’t score for the first 11 minutes and didn’t get a field goal until the final minute of the first half as the 6-foot-4 Sulaiman and Co. put the clamps on him while Samuel Lockhart (18 points) handled the scoring.

Thunder Mountain’s Samuel Lockhart goes up for a shot. Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report

“Lockhart got his tonight, but we did a great job on Baxter and everybody else and that’s always kind of been our mantra,” Martin said. “We’ll make you go straight up against our best guys. Your best players against our best players, but we’re not gonna let the rest of them have anything and try to make the best player make the other guys better.”

Baxter finished 2-for-10 from the field on shots he meant to take and hit the only one he didn’t mean to make. His interior lob pass to James Polasky in the third quarter inadvertently went in for his lone 3-pointer.

The shocked look on Baxter’s face was priceless and it was the first time Thunder Mountain coach John Blasco smiled all night. His team trailed 31-18.

Sabally was the catalyst on offense, calling for the ball and doing damage in a variety of ways – drilling a 3-pointer, scoring off the dribble, in the post, midrange pull up, spin move off glass. You name it, he did it.

The 6-foot-4 all-state guard made it look easy, sinking 11-of-15 field goals.

Sabally opened the game with a 3-pointer and ended the first quarter after driving in for a left-hand finish to just beat the buzzer. In the second quarter he scored off the dribble thanks to a beautiful fake. Moments later he knocked down a turnaround jumper from the elbow. His body language screamed swagger.

In the second half, he showed off a nice touch after backing up his defender and shooting over him. Moments later he got back-to-back layups, the first one in transition and the next one by bullying the defense through contact.

“It starts with attitude and effort,” Sabally said. “Positive mindset and no matter what keep your head up.”

Sabally’s point total in the state title game ranks among some of the East legends for a program with more state championships (19) and more star power than any high school in Alaska.

T-BIRDS IN TITLE GAME
Most Points

41 – Trajan Langdon 1994
39 – Muff Butler 1977
34 – Muff Butler 1978
34 – Trajan Langdon 1993
27 – Mike Childs 1985
27 – Trajan Langdon 1992
25 – Marquis White 2015
23 – Muhammed Sabally 2024

For Martin, this was his fifth career state title in 23 years on the bench in Alaska and third championship in six seasons at East.

“Finally, I think in this tournament you saw what we were capable of offensively in the second half when we really try to execute, pound the ball in the post, take our 3s,” he said. “Inside out; when we play well that’s how we play.”

Sulaiman collected his second consecutive double-double in the state tournament, hitting 6-of-16 shots and grabbing three offensive rebounds among his dozen boards.

His first field goal was a college-range 3-pointer to extend East’s lead to 16-6. He crashed the glass for a putback and moments later did it again to earn two free throws.

East’s Akeem Sulaiman glides to the goal. Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report

Despite guarding Thunder Mountain’s best player for large stretches of the game, Sulaiman had plenty left in the tank to score. His second 3-pointer pushed the lead to 36-20 and then he attacked the rim and hit a short jumper to make it 40-22. He finished his night with a one-hand tip after following his own miss and a left-hand finish at the rim as the T-birds’ lead ballooned to 50-31.

Sulaiman, who was on the court two years ago as a sophomore when East lost to South in the state title game on Zach Williamson’s buzzer beater, finished his career with back-to-back state championships and back-to-back double-doubles.

“We’ve been playing with each other for years. Everything is already there and we had to bring it the court somehow, someway, and that’s what we did all season,” Sulaiman said. “We worked hard to get this.

THUNDER MOUNTAIN (34) – Nierra 2, Ribao 0, Guevarra 0, Saceda-Hurt 0, Gasga 0, Ludeman 2, Lockhart 18, Garcia 0, Ssanguni 0, Thomas 0, Polasky 2, Baxter 10.
EAST (60) – Contreras 0, George 5, Johnson 2, Roberts 5, Delaney 0, Riek 2, Sulaiman 16, Ozuna 0, Carson 0, Sabally 23, Deng 4, Tharjiath 3.
Thunder Mountain 4 7 16 7 – 34
East Anchorage 8 16 18 18 – 60

East’s Deng Deng has easy bounce. Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report

Third-Place Game

All-CIC junior Toby Howard started the 2025 player of the year debate early as he took over the third-place game, scoring 12 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter to power second-ranked Service’s 49-45 win over third-ranked Monroe Catholic.

Howard hit 8-of-10 shots in the post to go with 7-of-9 shooting at the foul line, taking advantage of his 6-foot-8 frame. Credit goes to the Service guards as well for getting the big guy the ball in good spaces.

With his team trailing 36-33 in the early moments of the fourth quarter, Howard scored on a three-point play followed by a layup off a nice pick-and-role with Leyton Lockard for the Cougars (22-9)

He kept it going, converting another three-point play on an offensive rebound putback and cashing in on a bully-ball post move over his left shoulder to make it 44-40.

Then his blocked shot led directly to his assist on Marcus Kennedy’s layup to make it 46-40.

Monroe’s Armani Smith had 17 points and pulled the Rams within 48-45 with a 3 with 22 seconds left. Jett McCullough added 13 points for the Mid Alaska Conference champions, who fell to 21-7.

The game carried special significance for opposing coaches with UAF ties. In 2002, Service coach Jocquis Sconiers was a player and Monroe coach Frank Ostanik an assistant on the Nanooks team that won the Top of the World Classic to become the first NCAA Division II men’s team to win a D1 tournament. The star of that team, Brad Oleson, is also on the Monroe bench as an assistant coach.

MONROE (45) – Smith 17, Cortez 5, McCullough 13, Malamute 2, Mavencamp 0, Trieglaff 0, Snow 0, Williams 3, Oleson 5, Washburn 0, Wentz 0, Bast 0.
SERVICE (49) – Tautua 4, Henderson 0, Morgan 5, Dillard 0, Balmes 2, Zadra 7, Gracey 0, L.Lockard 6, Christophersen 0, T.Lockard 0, Kennedy 2, Howard 23.
Service 11 10 12 16 – 49
Monroe Catholic 11 11 11 12 – 45

Fourth-Place Game

Mat Chuol and Des’Laone Cook each furnished four field goals and four free throws to lead fifth-ranked West Anchorage in the fourth-place game, 41-40 over fourth-ranked West Valley.

Chuol and Cook each scored 12 points as the Eagles won despite going 0-for-8 from 3-point land. They did, however, outscore West Valley 15-3 from the free-throw line and overcome a 14-point deficit.

What a season series between these two schools. West (20-10) beat West Valley earlier this season in overtime at the Alaska Airlines Classic.

Leyton Nield’s 20 points led the Wolfpack (22-6).

West Anchorage 8 7 13 13 – 41
West Valley 12 17 6 5 – 40
WEST (41) – Mason 0, Alexander 2, Mikes 0, Cook 12, Tharjiath 0, Muehlenkamp 0, Hardman 6, Marial 5, Chuol 12, Shein 0, Atonio 4, Muon 0.
WEST VALLEY (40) – Young 0, H.Nield 3, Miranda 0, Bell 0, Sims 3, Cromer 0, L.Nield 20, Geyer 0, Irish 4, Petersen 6, Bostwick 4, Endicott 0.

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