East Hall boys basketball coach Joe Dix knows his team can’t continue its inconsistent play if the Vikings wish to advance in the Class AA state tournament. He also knows that the close games caused by that inconsistency might be just what the Vikings need.
“We have a good group of kids who keep fighting,” Dix said following the Vikings’ 76-68 win against Manchester in the second round of the Class AA tournament Wednesday in Gainesville. “We just have these little streaks (of inconsistency), and I can’t explain it.
“The kids have to fight through those lulls because the further we go, the more that’s going to be an issue.”
With the win, the Vikings (25-5) advance to the quarterfinals of the state tournament for the first time since the 2007-08 season. East Hall plays top-ranked Greater Atlanta Christian (25-5) at 8:30 p.m. Friday at the Northwest Georgia Trade Center in Dalton.
“We’re going to fight again Friday,” Dix said.
Not only will the Vikings need to battle to beat GAC, but they’ll also need to get back to fundamentals and make free throws. East Hall went 23 of 44 from the free throw line Wednesday, which allowed Manchester (24-6) to cut a 19-point deficit to just six points at the end of the third quarter.
“When we get to the line, we have to buckle down like we do in practice,” said senior Kymon Woods, who scored 10 points despite shooting 1-of-10 from the floor. “I think we get riled up and lose focus and we have to work on that.”
Luckily for Woods and the Vikings, Manchester also struggled shooting the ball. The Blue Devils shot just 35 percent from the floor, made 1 of 13 3-point attempts, and missed 16 of their 31 free throws.
Despite those paltry shooting statistics, the Blue Devils hung in the game thanks to pressure defense and the play of senior Tremane Kelly, who scored a game-high 27 points. Eight of Kelly’s points came during the third quarter when Manchester forced nine turnovers that sparked a 10-0 run.
“They got some fight and we knew they were tough,” Dix said. “I kept hearing that we had to match their intensity and for the most part, I think we did.”
The Vikings certainly came out intense, as they went on scoring runs of 10 and six points to build a 27-15 lead. Seniors Dre Perry and Sterling Bailey led the first quarter charge by combining to score 15 points and grabbing eight rebounds. Perry finished the game with a team-high 15 points, while Bailey had eight points and 10 rebounds. Junior J.C. Hampton added 13 points and sophomore Brian Edwards scored 10 for East Hall.
Hampton and Perry also played integral rolls in a pair of 8-0 runs in the second period that helped East Hall maintain a double-digit lead at intermission.
The lead increased to 19 thanks to a 10-1 run to start the third, but then the shots stopped falling, the turnovers started mounting, and the lead started shrinking.
In less than three minutes, Manchester reeled off 10 unanswered points to gain momentum heading to the fourth quarter.
East Hall regained the momentum after back-to-back layups from TD Teasley and Edwards gave it an 11-point lead. Manchester got within six with a little more than two minutes left in the game, but East Hall made 9-of-12 free throws down the stretch to seal the win.
“They have some talented players,” Woods said. “But we were focused and were able to put them away.
“A lot of people thought the Vikings were gone,” he added, “but we’re trying to show them we’re still here.”