Even when their shots aren’t falling, shooters shoot.
That’s the message, or a version of it, imparted by East Hall coach Joe Dix to junior 3-point specialist Hayden Chapman at halftime Saturday night, and it’s the message that helped the Vikings defeat rival Gainesville 71-69 in a see-saw affair that remained in doubt until the final buzzer.
The win, which fell on Senior Night at East Hall, was especially sweet for the seventh-ranked Vikings after they were pummeled, 92-62, by the Red Elephants in the Lanierland championship game just before Christmas.
“We won two out of three (this season),” Dix said, “but they won the one that mattered most.
“I was really proud of our kids for coming back and competing tonight after the way they beat us last time.”
In a game loaded with momentum-shifting moments Chapman was responsible for his fair share. After going scoreless in the first half and missing his first seven 3-pointers, Chapman never hesitated when open, and eventually he found his range.
“I just told him at halftime that he was going to step up and respond,” Dix said. “I told him, ‘you’ll make some. Keep shooting. It’ll come.’ And it did. He hit two or three big ones for us down the stretch.”
Chapman finished with 12 points, sinking 4 of his last 6 3-point attempts, including one that gave the Vikings (16-6, 8-0 8-AA North) their first lead of the second half and another to break a 54-54 tie at the opening of the fourth quarter.
Gainesville (15-8, 8-2 8-AAA South) never regained the lead.
“East Hall just made the big plays they had to make at the end of the game,” Gainesville coach Todd Cottrell said. “And we turned the ball over 22 times and missed 16 free throws. That’s not a very good recipe for success.”
Despite their struggles with offensive efficiency, the Red Elephants stayed within striking distance.
After East Hall scored the first seven points of the fourth quarter to take a 61-54 lead, Gainesville began to chip away. A Deshaun Watson 3-pointer — his fifth and final of the night — cut the lead to four with 2:08 remaining.
Caleb Hayman followed that with a put-back dunk that trimmed the East Hall advantage to 66-64, only to see Vikings big man Chris Orr answer with his own powerful two-handed slam at the other end.
With a little less than a minute remaining, East Hall had possession of the ball and a five-point lead. Electing not to foul, Gainesville turned up the half-court pressure and forced a turnover with less than 30 seconds remaining. Watson got an open look at a long 3, but it rimmed out. Gainesville’s Shaquan Cantrell secured the rebound and kicked it out to Javez Warren who buried a 3-pointer on the opposite wing cutting the East Hall lead to 70-68 with 15.5 seconds remaining.
After East Hall made only 1 of its 4 free throws down the stretch, Gainesville had a chance to tie the game or take the lead, trailing 71-69 with seven seconds remaining, but its final play went awry, forcing Tray Harrison to heave a desperation 3-pointer from the corner as time expired.
It was a bitter loss for the Red Elephants to swallow, but with a subregion final and region tournament approaching, they’ll need to move on quickly.
“This is a really great environment for a really great game,” Cottrell said of East Hall. “Hopefully it’ll get us prepared for our region tournament and hopefully for state.”
Watson, who finished 5 of 10 behind the arc, led Gainesville with 20 points. Cantrell added 16 and Hayman had 13. The Red Elephants wrap up their regular season at Monroe Area on Tuesday.
East Hall was led by seniors Brian Edwards (21 points, 8 of 8 free throws) and J.C. Hampton (19 points, 5 of 11 3-pointers).
The Vikings, who sit atop 8-AA North, closes out the regular season with games at Rabun County on Tuesday and Union County on Friday.
EAST HALL GIRLS 51, GAINESVILLE 38: The sixth-ranked Lady Vikings extended their winning streak in the rivalry to five games, steadily pulling away in the second and third quarters.
In their final home game, standout seniors Morgan Jackson and Jasmine Jenkins led the way, combining for 33 points. Jackson accounted for a game-high 20 of those on 9-of-15 shooting.
The Lady Red Elephants (15-9, 9-2), who had a four-game winning streak ended in the loss, trailed only 13-10 before East Hall (20-3, 7-1) stretched its lead to double digits shortly before halftime on back-to-back 3-pointers from freshman Jatasia Bailey.
After three quarters, the Lady Vikings led 45-22.
Hunter Pugh led Gainesville with nine points.
The Lady Vikings now return to subregion play, where they are in a three-team battle for first place. They’ll play the other two teams in contention — Rabun County and Union County — on Tuesday and Friday, respectively.