Joe Dix made sure to give the East Hall High gym hardwood a quick slap following the Vikings’ 86-59 victory over Ringgold Wednesday in the first round of the Class AAA state tournament.
The last thing he’d want is to jinx the excellent form his team has already made in the last few weeks.
No. 11 East Hall (21-7) buried 17 3-pointers, including 12 in the first half, in Wednesday’s one-sided rout to book its spot in Saturday’s second round against Westside (Augusta), who topped Rutland 82-65.
“Good shooting, it’s contagious,” said Dix. “We’ve been shooting real well so far, knock on wood.”
Triston Cooper (15 points) led the way with five treys in the first half, while Andy Lara (16 points) and Luke Holtzclaw (13 points) also knocked down four apiece. Tylor Brown (3 treys) also reached double digits with 11 points.
Junior point guard Mac Brower led the Tigers (10-18) with 21 points, while Bailey Gaines notched 10 for Ringgold.
The Vikings, who are back-to-back Region 7-AAA champions, made it to the state quarterfinals in the 2014-15 season before falling to Laney High.
Cooper has been playing through what Dix called a “Grade 3 ligament tear” in his right ankle, an injury that Cooper admitted tends to bother him during the game. Still, the senior pushed through to pace East Hall to a 20-point halftime lead.
“It’s been getting a little better, even if sometimes the stability’s not always there,” said Cooper. “It’s the tape that’s been holding me up.”
The Vikings played what Dix called “vintage East Hall basketball,” forcing 25 turnovers on a ferocious full-court press as Ringgold struggled to move the ball beyond its own half. East Hall’s unrelenting defense led to Dix’s team whipping the ball around with pace on the other end.
Dix said he was proud of his players to execute “hero passes,” extra dishes that give up a good shot in search of a better one.
Lara, Cooper and Brown combined for the game’s opening four 3-pointers on East Hall’s first six shots from beyond the arc as the Vikings shot out to a 12-3 lead within four minutes.
“We’re playing together,” said Dix. “If it was a thing of being unselfish over not, I’m happy with that.”
The Vikings notched seven of their treys in the second quarter, including five straight during the first five minutes. East Hall led 50-30 at halftime.
East Hall is riding a six-game winning streak, and has won eight of the last nine contests dating back to Jan. 26. Westside is the No. 2 seed out of Region 3-AAA and fell to Laney in last week’s region title game. The Patriots are ranked No. 9 in Class AAA.
Dix leapt on the court, pumping his fist in celebration after Cooper sank back-to-back long-range shots to push East Hall to a 39-21 lead.
“Whatever discomfort he might be feeling, he’s not telling us about it,” said Dix.
Ringgold lost 10 of its final 12 games to end its season. The Tigers cut the lead to 19, thanks to a 10-3 run to open the second half, but the Vikings quickly responded with an 11-2 streak of their own.
Ringgold fell to East Hall in the first round of the 2013-14 playoffs.