The East Hall boys shoot free throws at 7:15 every morning in preparation for games like the one played Thursday night against Chestatee.
The Vikings hit 34-of-41 free throws in the game, 17-of-20 in the fourth quarter, to propel themselves to an 80-61 win over the War Eagles and move themselves into sole possession of second place in the Subregion 7A-AAA standings.
The game’s leading scorer with 29 points, East Hall’s Dedric Ware, was 17-of-18 on the night from the charity stripe including 12-of-12 in the fourth quarter.
East Hall couldn’t buy a basket in the first half and Chestatee couldn’t miss with Parker Smith hitting for 19 first-half points on his way to 28 for the game.
The Tennessee State signee drew double teams for the better part of the game and didn’t shoot once without a hand directly in his line of sight.
"We tried to make his (Parker Smith) touches difficult," East Hall coach Joe Dix said. "He’s going to get his hands on the ball and he’s going to score, we just didn’t want him going off for 45 or 50 (points).
"He’s really good. I don’t think folks around here realize how good he is, he’s a special player."
An early first-quarter 7-0 run by Chestatee gave the War Eagles their first lead of the game at 7-5. A Branden Jovaag steal and pull-up 3-pointer pulled Chestatee ahead by four with under a minute to go in the first period.
A back-and-forth battle would ensue in the second period with neither team able to forge ahead by more than three points.
The largest lead of the quarter came on the heels of five straight by Smith including a layup that tied the game at 21 all and a 3-pointer on Chestatee’s next possession to give his team a three-point lead.
Two made free throws by Ken Wise with three seconds to go in the first half cut Chestatee’s lead to one at 33-32 going into halftime.
While East Hall’s free-throw shooting in the second half was close to impeccable, its third-quarter defense, in which the Vikings held Chestatee to only seven points, partnered with timely made shots brought them back from the one-point halftime deficit and gave them a lead they would not relinquish for the duration of the second half.
"The second half we really kind of established some things," Dix said. "We did a good job of rotating and that’s the thing, if you’re going to double him (Parker), everybody can’t just stand around and watch. We started to rotate a little better in the second half."
The rotating led to steals and turnovers which led to easy layups and quick baskets for the Vikings all culminating with a 15-0 run that began with four minutes to go in the third quarter and lasted well into the final period.
The offensive onslaught was sparked by a 3-point basket by Vikings’ senior Trevor Bishop from the left wing, his first and only field goal of the game and capped by a layup by Ware, assist on the layup coming via Tracey Gardner who also started the fast break with a steal.
Also during the run, Smith was held scoreless.
"One thing we talked about (at halftime) was making shots," Dix said. "We were 1-for-11 from 3-point range at halftime and we felt like we could get looks and we were able to and we started knocking some in. Things get a whole lot better when you start making shots."
With one minute, 52 seconds to go in the game East Hall knocked the wind out of Chestatee’s sails and sealed the game for itself when Wise drove down the right side of the lane and with his right hand, jammed home a reverse dunk and was fouled in the process.
The East Hall senior, who was 13-of-17 from the free-throw line on the game and was the second leading scorer on the team with 19 points, hit the ensuing free throw.
East Hall next plays at 8:30 tonight at Gilmer while Chestatee plays host to Lumpkin County at 8:30 tonight.
East Hall girls 64, Chestatee 45
Relentless defense combined with 26 points by senior Sada Wheeler and 16 by senior Tierra Benton led the Lady Vikings to a win Thursday night at East Hall High.
The win moves East Hall (12-5, 3-2 7A-AAA) into a three-way tie for second place in Subregion 7A-AAA with Chestatee (8-11, 3-2 7A-AAA) and North Hall. The Gilmer girls hold the number one spot in the standings with only one subregion loss.
East Hall’s full-court pressure gave Chestatee fits throughout the game and caused the Lady War Eagles, who are comfortable with a slow paced half-court game, to become a more rushed version of themselves.
Regardless, however, Chestatee was able to hang tight with East Hall through three quarters keeping the Lady Vikings lead to a maximum of seven points.
Sophomore Chelsea Wilson led Chestatee with 15 points, including three 3-pointers, and senior point guard Kasey Smith added 12.
East Hall took its biggest lead of the game with under a minute to play in the third quarter on a layup by Wheeler, assist credited to junior center Kristina Harris. The Lady Vikings subsequent possession gave them the first double-digit lead of the game when senior point guard Sonata Chester hit two free throws.
The Lady Vikings extended their lead to 14 points early in the fourth quarter on back-to-back layups by Wheeler and Benton and didn’t look back, getting the win and moving up in the standings.
East Hall returns to action at 7 tonight at Gilmer while Chestatee plays host to Lumpkin County at 7 tonight.