Top-seeded East Hall was on its way to a season-ending defeat to Decatur in the first round of the Class AA state playoffs when Joshua Hampton extended the Vikings’ season with a wild, bank-shot 3-pointer in the final minute to send the game to overtime.
Once there, the Vikings jumped to a lead and maintained it with free throw shooting and possession control to escape with a 68-59 victory Saturday night at East Hall.
The Vikings (24-5, No. 1 Region 8) will host Manchester (No. 2 Region 5), on Wednesday. The Blue Devils defeated Dade County on Saturday.
But Manchester was a missed Hampton shot away from hosting Decatur.
The Vikings were trailing 56-53 when Hampton, from the wing, launched a 3 with a defender on his side. The ball went high off the glass and into the basket, giving East Hall new life.
The Vikings trailed 51-45 with just over two minutes remaining.
“I called bank shot,” said Hampton, who was third on the team in scoring with 13 points. “On the angle I was on at the basket, and how (the defender) was guarding me, I had to. When I got the ball, I was in a good position to score, so I shot it and felt good about it. I knew it was going to go in.
“And I called bank.”
While Hampton maintained a straight face, his teammate and coach couldn’t maintain their laughter.
“He said he called it, but I don’t think he did,” said Kymon Woods, who had 15 points for the Vikings. “I think he saw it going up and once he saw it was going to hit the glass, he screamed, ‘Glass!’’
Vikings coach Joe Dix sides with Woods.
“Yeah, yeah right,” Dix said. “Don’t believe that.
“We told them to take the first available good shot, so we were going to take a two if it came to us because we had plenty of timeouts. But we deserved to have something good happen to us in the game. We were struggling, but we dug down late, executed and lengthened the game.”
East Hall led 10-3 after the first quarter, using a full-court press to fluster Decatur and force eight turnovers.
“We should have had 20 points at that time,” Dix said. “I said to my staff, ‘We’re in trouble if we can’t finish these opportunities on turnovers.’”
Sure enough, the Bulldogs (20-10, No. 4 Region 6) caught up to the pace East Hall set and outscored the Vikings 19-16 in the second quarter to trail 26-22 at halftime.
From that point forward, the game was up in the air.
“We started slow, but that was getting used to East Hall’s physicality and how up-in-your-face they are,” Bulldogs coach Charley Copp said. “It took a few minutes, but once it got past that point, it was just a game where people were playing.”
Decatur started the second half with a four-point play from Trumon Jefferson to tie the game. The Bulldogs outscored East Hall 14-9 in the third quarter to take a 36-35 lead.
“We call it going blow for blow,” Jefferson said. “They make a shot, you make a shot. We were matching them.”
Jefferson scored eight of his team’s first nine points in the fourth quarter to give the Bulldogs a 45-39 lead with five minutes remaining, and maintained the five-point lead until two minutes left.
Just over a minute later, Hampton hit the shot that sent the game to overtime.
“I think we put ourselves in great position to win,” Copp said. “But then he hit the bank-shot 3. Percentage-wise, usually that doesn’t go in, we get the rebound, they foul and we continue on.
“But it went in, and that changed the game.”
Jefferson said the team never recovered after Hampton’s shot.
“It doesn’t matter how you make it, he made it,” He said. “We were crushed.”
In overtime, the Vikings scored on back-to-back possessions to take the lead and sealed the game by hitting eight of their first 10 free throws.
“Survive and advance, that’s all that matters,” Dix said. “It’s a win and we’ll learn from it, forget it and move on.”