East Hall coach Joe Dix and his coaching staff took a few moments of reflection in the locker room Saturday night, following the team’s exit in the second round of the state playoffs.
For just a few moments, they could narrow down what went wrong and how they could bounce back next year.
The Vikings dropped a 79-59 decision to Northside-Augusta in the second round of the Class AAA state tournament, falling prey to second-chance opportunities and quick starts by the Patriots. Northside-Augusta will next play in the state quarterfinals against Cedar Grove 8:15 p.m. Friday at Augusta University.
“I thought we fought hard,” said Dix. “This is a great group of kids, they fought through injuries, and they fought through a lot this year.”
Senior Dekwan Lewis led the Patriots (18-5) with 24 points, while three other Northside players picked up double-digit scoring nights. The visitors leaped out to a 15-4 lead after just six minutes and never let up to book their spot in the Elite Eight.
Tylor Brown paced East Hall (21-8) with 18 points, Andy Lara chipped in 10 and the Vikings chewed the deficit to 37-32 at halftime behind a 21-11 output in the second quarter.
But the Patriots held East Hall to just one field goal in the opening five minutes of the third, while dominating the offensive boards to earn the victory. A breakaway layup by Isaiah Bauman gave Northside a game-high 21-point lead with 57.1 seconds left in regulation.
“It was an awful start for us,” said Dix. “We got back in it… and then you come out of the break and want to get a couple stops, but when you get down like you do to a team like that, it’s hard.”
East Hall shot 33 percent from the floor (17 of 51), and knocked down just four 3-pointers, compared to 17 treys in Wednesday’s first-round matchup against Ringgold.
And when the Vikings started intentionally fouling early in the fourth quarter, Westside responded by connecting on 19 of their 22 free throws in the final eight minutes.
East Hall can still celebrate a strong season – the Vikings earned back-to-back region titles for the first time since 2003-2005 and finished runners-up behind Flowery Branch in the Lanierland title game.
Dix said his team responded well to losing popular post player Kyvon Davenport to graduation, as well as fighting through injuries like a ligament tear in Triston Cooper’s right ankle, which limited the sharpshooter to just six points on the night.
“They held things down,” said Dix. “We had a real fun time in the region tournament, but we knew that (Northside-Augusta) was good. We saw it on the film what they could do.”
Dix said his team could tell how much the Patriots thrived on getting second chances on possessions, but that his players were unable to counter their strength.
With the win, Westside breaks its recent record of falling in the second round for four of the last five seasons.
East Hall’s Tylor Brown spurred the Vikings’ brief comeback in the second quarter, pouring in 10 of East Hall’s 21 points to close to a five-point deficit. But the Patriots strung together a 15-6 run to begin the third that put any hope of a trip to Augusta out of East Hall’s hopes.
Northside scored 42 points in the second half, compared to East Hall’s 27.
“We could see on the film where they were getting 2, 3, 4 shots a possession and then they’d be able to get a run-out,” said Dix. “We weren’t able to combat that. If we can, maybe it’s a game that can be different.”