Gainesville boys move into finals with 104-67 win
“Grind” isn’t a word East Hall boys basketball coach Joe Dix likes to use, but he did so anyway Thursday night.
Who could blame him — it was an apt description of how the Vikings reached the Lanierland tournament championship game for the second straight year.
In a physical, frantic game defined by the Vikings’ defensive pressure, East Hall outlasted North Hall 56-53 in the final minutes of a semifinal contest at Gainesville High School. No. 2 seed East Hall (8-5) will try to avoid last year’s result in the final when it faces No. 8 seed Gainesville at 8 p.m. Friday.
“Both teams defended really well,” Dix said. “Tempo was slow. It was kind of a grind, particularly in the first half.”
The No. 3 seed Trojans (9-6), meanwhile, have a matchup with No. 5 seed Lakeview Academy in the third-place contest at 5 p.m.
The teams combined for just 13 made field goals in the first half, with East Hall taking a 20-19 lead into the break. But the Vikings scored 16 points in the third quarter to finally create some separation, with junior guard Deonte Evans finding some open space for three quick buckets.
“Deonte Evans played the best game he has played with us and really carried us for a little while,” Dix said. “He just kind of took over the game. He was excellent.”
The Vikings led by as many as 10 points during the third period, but the Trojans managed to cut the lead to five thanks to a pair of 3-point plays by senior center Jake Meeler.
East Hall’s lead again swelled to double digits during the fourth quarter before North Hall began causing havoc defensively. The Trojans came up with a string of steals, and junior guard Noah Holman hit a floater to make it 55-51 with 13 seconds to play.
But it was ultimately too little too late for North Hall, despite the Vikings connecting on just 20 of 32 free throws.
“We made some boneheaded plays down the stretch, some missed free throws,” Dix said. “That has been a bother for us all year, free-throw shooting. We missed some crucial ones down the stretch that made it tough for us.”
East Hall was still able to pull out the win, even with Trojans senior guard Evan Easton racking up a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Meeler provided 10 boards for North Hall, while junior guard Luke Cooper notched 11 points for East Hall.
Even as a huge challenge awaits against Gainesville, which won its two Lanierland games by a combined 62 points, Dix is still proud his team earned that matchup in the first place.
“I’m excited we got to the finals,” the coach said. “That’s an accomplishment in itself. There are some good teams in this tournament.”