Tari Eason takes over with Jaden McDaniels sidelined with foul trouble as the top-ranked Eagles take down Union, which is No. 1 in the RPI rankings.
TACOMA — The Union High School boys basketball team entered Friday’s potential Class 4A state title preview against Federal Way with the unblemished, 22-0 record and No. 1 spot in the WIAA’s RPI rankings.
But let Federal Way’s Tari Eason explain what most everybody else in Stadium High School’s gymnasium knew.
“We’re the best team in the state,” said the 6-foot-9 junior, whose team has topped The Seattle Times state rankings all season. “People came to see Federal Way play. They came to see us and we had to put on a show and do what we do.”
It wasn’t much of a show. Not with 28 combined team fouls in the first half, which had Federal Way’s Jaden McDaniels, the No. 5 recruit in the nation as ranked by 247Sports, sitting on the bench with two points and three fouls with just over two minutes remaining in the first quarter.
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But Eason took over after that, scoring 18 of his 25 points in the first half to lead the Eagles to an 82-62 victory over Union of Vancouver to clinch a spot in Saturday’s Class 4A West Central/Southwest bi-district championship at Puyallup High School. The Eagles will play Curtis, which beat Mount Rainier 77-65 in its semifinal.
McDaniels, a 6-foot-11 McDonald’s All-American who has narrowed his college options to Kentucky, San Diego State, Texas, Washington and UCLA, finished with 16 points despite three offensive fouls and a technical.
Eason, who transferred to Federal Way after playing at Garfield last season, might not have McDaniels’ kind of attention yet. But maybe he should.
“He carried us,” said Federal Way coach Yattah Reed, who took over before the season when Jerome Collins was placed on administrative leave. “But, man, as great as he played he’s even more of a great kid. He just keeps fighting for his teammates. He alters shots; he does things that don’t always get to social media or the 5,000 likes.
“It’s unfortunate that no one is talking about him. It’s so easy to talk about all the titles and a McDonald’s All-American, and those are great things. But sometimes you kind of forget that we have another kid here who is doing things that are just as great.”
Federal Way (22-2) still hasn’t lost to an in-state opponent this season.
But Union (22-1), which was without coach Blake Conley because he was expecting the birth of his first child, was just a break away from running away in this game in the second quarter.
With McDaniels on the bench, Federal Way trailed 19-16 at the end of the first quarter and 28-21 after Brad Lackey’s three-pointer. Lackey led Union with 21 points.
Union’s sharpshooter, Ethan Smith, got going, too. Reed got a technical foul right after McDaniels did. Reed said that was only his second technical in 21 years of coaching.
But Eason went to work, scoring eight consecutive points for Federal Way with his physical play inside. Jishai Miller’s three-pointer followed by two more Eason free throws tied it at 32-32.
Then McDaniels returned in the second half, and Federal Way was off to the races.
“With me and him, side by side — it’s almost unstoppable,” Eason said. “If not unstoppable. I like it.”
They showed Friday why they complement each other so well.
“Jaden is a little more flashy. I’ll do the dirty work,” Eason said. “He’s a better shooter, but I can shoot, too. From one of the first open gyms it just kind of clicked with us, and I think it’s because we have the same mindset — we just want to win. Always. Just win.”