East Hall’s Kylan Curry and Jayvion Rucker provided the boost the team needed Tuesday.
Locked in a region battle against Cherokee Bluff in Flowery Branch, the two seniors combined for nine points in the final period as the Vikings (6-3, 3-0 Region 7-3A) pulled away for a 76-64 win.
Down the stretch, East Hall went on a 10-2 scoring run, while keeping the Bears from hitting a field goal over a five-minute stretch to start the final frame.
“Man, I’ll tell you what, I am so proud of these guys,” East Hall coach Seth Thompson said. “… For our program, for where we are right now, this puts us in a great position moving forward. It’s good. I’m just so excited.”
Curry led the Vikings in scoring with 20, and Rucker scored 18 while contributing six blocks and a pair of steals defensively.
Cherokee Bluff (4-4, 1-2) got 13 points each from guards Griffin Neville and Bosko Norman.
The teams played largely even basketball through three quarters, starting in a heavily offensive opening frame. East Hall’s TJ Campbell got things going with a 3-pointer just five seconds into the game that led to a flurry of made 3s from both teams.
Four consecutive free throws from Cherokee Bluff’s Devon Wainer and Jaylon Justice briefly gave the Bears a four-point lead late in the period, but a 6-0 East Hall run to end the quarter put the visitors back on top. The Vikings never struggled to put up points throughout the frame, despite Cherokee Bluff coach Benjie Wood’s aggressive press defense.
“We practice with pressure,” Thompson said. “… That’s all we do. That’s like a practice for us. Coach Wood does a great job, and he’s had so many good teams, and he consistently wins. … He’s a Hall County legend. We practice with that though. That’s not something we’re not used to.”
Rucker started off the second quarter with a block followed by an and-one opportunity that he converted on the other end of the court to give the Vikings a comfortable cushion. Cherokee Bluff kept things close and eventually closed East Hall’s lead to just two points, but an alley-oop from Campbell to Rucker put the game just out of reach once again.
The Bears cut it to a one-point deficit later on in the quarter, but another alley-oop to Rucker with about a minute to play until halftime — this one with Curry on the other end — once against kept the Vikings ahead on the scoreboards.
“(The alley-oops) help a lot,” Rucker said. “It gets the crowd going. It’s something we do every day in practice in our drills, and to come out and do it in a game just like we do it in practice is fun.”
The teams kept going back and forth to start the third quarter, with Cherokee Bluff tying the game up after a Norman steal and transition layup and a Wainer free throw. But a timely 4-0 run from East Hall and a Rucker block to close out the third frame made it a four-point game going into the final eight minutes.
And from there, the Vikings came alive.
Rucker and Curry scored the first five points, and then after Norman made a pair of free throws and grabbed a steal on the ensuing East Hall in-bound, Rucker blocked two Cherokee Bluff shots from in close, denying the Bears access to the rim. Rucker said closing out games strong has been an emphasis at practice for the team all season long.
“Coach Thompson, he really drills that in practice,” Rucker said. “We do a lot of full-court stuff so when we’re tired we still have to execute, and that’s something we’ve been practicing since the summer. So when we come out and have a game, it’s something we’re used to, something we can do easily. I give all the credit to coach Thompson. He’s really prepared us for games like this.”
East Hall kept rolling throughout the quarter, finishing things off with a corner 3 from Clete Cooper that gave the Vikings a 15-point advantage.
“The next level for us is to be able to finish games, especially against well-coached teams,” Thompson said. This was a big step for us. … For us to be able to finish this one off, that’s the next level to go for us. That’s big for us. That’s big for our program, big for our season.”
EAST HALL GIRLS 56, CHEROKEE BLUFF 29: After allowing 14 first-quarter points, East Hall tightened things up defensively to run away with a dominant victory. The Lady Vikings (3-7, 1-2) got 11 points from Ivey Shadburn and 10 from Alexis Burce in the win. Madi Phillips and Timber Gaither led the way for the Lady Bears (5-4, 0-3), scoring eight apiece.
“I thought our girls played excellent,” East Hall coach Justin Wheeler said. “I thought they played hard. We played great defense. Second half, we did a great job of getting 50/50 balls. One thing I’m just excited about is they came out and competed. I’m happy for them.”
Cherokee Bluff started things off strong, running out to a 12-5 lead early behind four points each from Phillips and Gaither. After one quarter, the hosting Lady Bears were on top by a point, 14-13. But the Lady Vikings turned up the heat from that point forward, giving up just six points, in the second quarter, four in the third and six again in the fourth.
Once East Hall started making stops defensively, things started opening up for the Lady Vikings on the other end of the court. The Lady Vikings hit eight 3-pointers over the final three quarters.
“Our region is very competitive,” Wheeler said. “I think anybody can beat anybody on any given night. So to go on the road and get a win, that’s pretty big.”