For much of the way, the East Hall boys basketball team went shot for shot with reigning champion Gainesville High.
But at a certain point, something had to give, and the Red Elephants were able to string together a few scoring runs late to spoil a potential upset and pull away for a 96-73 win in what was a wild Lanierland tournament final at Flowery Branch High.
The win gives Gainesville (7-6) back-to-back Lanierland titles for the first time since the 1991-92 seasons, and 25th county championship overall.
The final itself had a little bit of everything — emotional outbursts of spectators, playful banter from coaches Benjie Wood and Joe Dix from the sidelines, not to mention a see-saw game until the two-minute mark of the third quarter.
The game was paused momentarily at the 5:36 mark of the final period when a group of officers held back a small group of vocal fans from entering the court.
The Vikings (6-6) showcased pin-point accuracy from the perimeter, knocking down 16 3-pointers in the game to keep the margin in the single digits for nearly three quarters. East Hall even climbed within four late in the second half, as Luke Cooper (eight points) knocked down a long 3-pointer to cut it to 54-50 inside the two-minute mark of the third period.
The Red Elephants opened the game with some excitement to counter East Hall’s athletic prowess. They pleased the packed gymnasium with electrifying dunks, though, missed more than they made.
Gainesville also overcame some chippy moments that kept East Hall in it for much of the way.
“They played their tails off, and absolutely gave us everything we wanted,” Gainesville coach Benjie Wood said. “Coach (Joe) Dix does a great job with those kids, and they played their heart out. Tip my hat to them.
“I’m proud of my kids for withstanding their wrongs and pulling away at the end.”
Gainesville’s depth was pivotal.
In the closing minutes of the third, senior KJ Buffen (17 points) drew back-to-back three-point plays, converting his second, and the Red Elephants got five more points from Rafael Robles (15) in the form of a long 3-pointer and a layup off a steal.
The Red Elephants got another boost off consecutive East Hall turnovers and just like that, Gainesville’s lead grew to 13 before the third quarter buzzer.
The Red Elephants quickly offset an East Hall 3-pointer at the start of the final period, rattling off eight straight to stretch it to 73-57. Gainesville proceeded with a 15-3 scoring surge inside the five minute mark, getting two more long-range treys from Robles and a crowd-pleasing left-handed jam by Buffen.
“The margin of error against a team like that is so small, you just can’t make mistakes,” Dix said of the dramatic turnaround. “Gainesville is so deep, that’s what wears you down.”
Senior Xavier Bledson led the way for Gainesville with 19 points to earn All-tournament honors. Kajuan Hale (11 points), Jarrell Rosser (12) and tournament MVP Jarred Rosser (10 points) were others to pace the Red Elephants.
Jayvion Rucker (14 points), T.J. Campbell (13) and Luke Holtzclaw (nine points) each made three 3-pointers to aid the long range attack of East Hall.
Jarred Rosser Gainesville (MVP)
Jack Blackburn, Lakeview Academy
Noah Holman, North Hall
Cooper Wilson, Chestatee
Chandler Jones, Johnson
Noah Edmondson, West Hall
Justin Quick, Flowery Branch
Luke Cooper, East Hall
Xavier Bledson, Gainesville