MANCHESTER--In the state tournament a year ago, the East Hall boys basketball team was able to dispatch of Manchester High with a combination of strong shooting and a dominating interior presence.
Vikings coach Joe Dix knew going into this year's edition that the Blue Devils would try to flip the script. He was right.
From the opening tip, the Vikings (22-8) struggled to keep up with the fast-paced and athletic style of play of their opponents, eventually succumbing to the relentless fast breaks and defensive pressure in a 95-76 loss on Wednesday in Manchester.
With the loss, East Hall's season comes to an end a game short of the state quarterfinals, which it advanced to a year ago.
"We knew it was going to be a track meet," Dix said after the game. "We missed too many easy baskets on our end, failed to get back and gave up too many easy ones on the other end. The transition game was the difference tonight."
Manchester (21-2) coach Curtis Noble had keyed in on East Hall star J.C. Hampton from the start.
Noble said following the game that he knew from Hampton's performance a year ago, as well as a 40-point performance in the first round this season, that Manchester could not allow Hampton to find his rhythm.
From the start, Hampton faced double-teams from the strongest Blue Devil defenders.
He scored six points in the first quarter, but the defensive pressure forced a couple of turnovers and missed shots that resulted in fast breaks for the home team.
On one such occasion, Hampton was forced into a contested 3-point attempt. The ensuing missed shot resulted in a coast-to-coast lay-in by Manchester's Kevis Martin.
That would become a trend, as Martin dropped 17 points, the majority of which came on fast breaks.
"We had a hard time handling the ball tonight," Dix said, referring to his team's inability to find good looks at the basket. "We've got one real ball-handler; they've got seven."
Noble said that's just the style his team likes to play.
"That's our game," he said. "Different coaches have different styles. We like to control the speed. We knew that, defensively, we couldn't keep up with their size, so we just had to win with that game plan."
Despite being severely overmatched in the game when it came to speed, the Vikings were able to hang close for the majority of the first three quarters.
They trailed by nine going into the second quarter - a lead that extended to as many as 16 less than two minutes into the quarter - but a handful of turnovers and an impressive quarter by Brian Edwards kept the Vikings within striking distance.
Edwards scored 11 points in the period, the majority of which came on strong drives to the basket.
Following a 7-0 run by Manchester to start the quarter, Edwards took the ball hard to the basket, avoided two defenders and laid the ball off the glass to get the action started.
A Manchester travel resulted in an easy back-door play to Edwards by East Hall on the inbound.
Edwards laid the ball in again, and added a free throw to complete a 3-point play.
Another drive by Edwards, who finished with 24 points in the game, on the next possession resulted in two more free throws, bringing his tally up to seven points in barely half a minute of play.
The Manchester lead had been cut to 27-18.
But again, Manchester was able to build its lead, scoring eight of the next 11 to go back up by 14 with four minutes remaining in the half.
It was a similar story in the third quarter, when East Hall fell behind 15, cut the lead to eight and fell back behind by 12 by the end of the quarter.
"Every time we got close, we made a few mistakes and they made a few plays," Dix said.
Obscured by the loss was the impressive fourth quarter from Hampton, who came alive with the game nearly out of hand.
He scored 14 in the quarter, including four off of a 4-point play when he was fouled on a made 3-pointer.
When he fouled out of the game with just a minute remaining and the game decided, Hampton received an ovation, not just from the East Hall fans, but from the hometown fans as well.
His fourth quarter had given him a game-high 26 points on the night.
"I told him he gave it his all," Dix said. "He had one of the great seniors years at this school. He had a difficult time with that defense early, but I was proud of the way he fought back."
Manchester was led by Saiquan Terry's 25 points, and Damien Turner added 16.
It will take on defending-champion Greater Atlanta Christian in the quarterfinals on Saturday.