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Fast start lifts North Hall boys over Decatur in first round
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If there’s any constant to North Hall coach Benjie Wood’s personality on the sidelines, it’s his intense drive to achieve success.

Wood’s strong will was evident in all aspects of North Hall’s 61-48 win over Decatur in the first round of the Class AAA state playoffs on Wednesday night in Gainesville.

“He’s the best coach in the state,” Trojans senior Ebo Smith said. “He doesn’t take average from us, and I love his intensity. He understands that we aren’t perfect, but he expects that we strive for it.”

North Hall advances to the second round of the state playoffs, where it will visit top-seeded Morgan County.

The Trojans (24-3) scored on their first nine possessions of the game, only twice coming away without points on offensive possessions during the entire first quarter. North Hall’s efficiency helped build a 19-8 lead by the end of the opening period.

“We had scripted plays,” Wood said, regarding the preparation of the game. “If they came out and ran zone, we went to a certain set of plays. If they gave us man-to-man, we ran another set of plays.”

Their near flawless execution did not stop as they headed into the second quarter. The Trojans ran a similar — and successful — lob play to senior Ebo Smith time and time again, showing no hangover after a region championship loss at home to Buford on Saturday night.

“This had nothing to do with Buford,” Wood said. “We told our players that every game is now a championship, and they can’t worry about the last game or the next game.”

North Hall’s loss in the championship game gave the Trojans experience with a different kind of defense that would pay off on Wednesday. Decatur ran the same 1-3-1 zone look that stifled them on Saturday. But the Bulldogs (17-12) did not provide the same challenge as was given North Hall four days earlier.

“We knew they played a 1-3-1, and we wanted to come out here and make a statement,” Smith said. “After Buford, a lot of people didn’t think we could come out and play like this and against that defense.”

The Trojans shot 56 percent from the field and scored their 61 points on only 38 shots. They were also 6 of 11 from beyond the 3-point arc.

“It was physical game, not many calls went either way,” Wood said. “It was a tough game to score in.”

Smith had 13 of the team’s 30 halftime points and finished the game as the night’s leading scorer with 25.

Even when his team owned a comfortable lead deep in the third quarter, which got as high as 17 points, Wood still appeared as if he was coaching in a championship game. He paced the bench, applauded players and made his case known to the referees.

The Trojans used their depth to take advantage of Decatur, and there was a visible difference in the Bulldogs’ play late in each half. Decatur’s passing game struggled, and beating North Hall off the glass became a difficult task.

“We felt like they were tired and we don’t mind subbing with our bench.” Wood said.

Adam Kelly added 16 points for the Trojans, many off of fast-break chances in the second half. Griffin Olson and Avery Cagle each scored 10 for North Hall.

Davante Meadows had a team-high 12 points for Decatur, while Cordele Jackson scored 11 for the Bulldogs.

North Hall outrebounded Decatur 25-13, which was made all the easier by converting on the offensive end with accurate passing and quick cutters.

The win was Wood’s 150th as North Hall’s head coach, a position he took seven years ago. In addition to averaging more than 21 wins each year, he has a state semifinal appearance and four trips to the second round to add to his list of accomplishments.

“I have a great staff and each of them has their own specialties, which makes my job easier,” Wood said.

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