D’Marcus Simonds laughed and wore a big smile as he got back on defense.
The Gainesville junior guard had just spun in the air on an apparent dunk attempt that turned into a missed layup, then put back his own miss against rival North Hall.
It was a rare lighthearted moment for the Red Elephants in a hard-fought 64-56 home victory against the methodical Trojans on Tuesday night. Simonds’ basket put Gainesville up 58-47 with about three minutes to go, a lead that grew to 13 shortly thereafter.
North Hall eventually cut it back to seven in the closing moments, but behind Simonds’ team-high 25 points, the Red Elephants survived to improve to 8-0 ahead of a Friday trip to Buford.
“Every time that we made a little run, they responded, did a great job, and that’s what good teams do,” Gainesville coach Benjie Wood said.
Carson Heinen inflicted much of the damage for the Trojans with his game-high 26 points. Heinen made 10 of 12 free throws and accounted for two of North Hall’s six 3-pointers.
The Trojans made 15 of 20 free throws (75 percent), while the Red Elephants went 11 for 18 (61.1 percent) at the charity stripe.
Gainesville led 28-23 after a back-and-forth first half, before North Hall pulled within 29-28 on a pair of Heinen free throws at the 4:23 mark of the third quarter.
“That was a very fun game,” North Hall coach Tyler Sanders said. “That was a very good team we just played. They’re going to make some noise in the state tournament, and my kids battled for 32 minutes. I can’t ask anything else. They got a few more shots to fall than we did.”
Sanders said Heinen, a junior, is constantly getting better.
“He’s starting to learn how to score, learning how to get fouled,” Sanders said. “And then the kids know when to throw it to him. He’s doing a good job of being patient, waiting to get open.”
The Red Elephants pushed their edge to 40-32 on a Bailey Minor old-fashioned three-point play late in the final minute of the third. But the Trojans kept fighting back, even cutting it to four on a Heinen jumper early in the fourth.
A 6-0 spurt with Simonds’ putback in the middle of it made it 60-47 with 2:28 left.
Jermaine Fleming scored 12 points, including a pair of key layups in the fourth quarter, for Gainesville. Luke Maddox added nine points and Minor pitched in seven.
Brock Wingo, Sam Jackson and Evan Easton all chipped in nine points for North Hall (4-4).
“We played a team that’s well-coached and disciplined,” Wood said. “And hopefully that will help us learn to be a little more like that ourselves.”
Wood said his guys have to set aside personal agendas and play more consistently.
“We’ve got to become more of a team,” Wood said.
North Hall beat Woodward Academy but lost to East Hall in two other tough, non-region games leading into Tuesday. It’s all part of a formula.
“We’re trying to prepare ourselves for teams down the road, prepare for our good region,” Sanders said.
North Hall plays Lakeview Academy at 5:30 p.m. Friday in the White County Christmas Tournament.
GAINESVILLE GIRLS 43, NORTH HALL 32: The matchup of county rivals was tied 6-all through a quarter. Then, the Lady Red Elephants clamped down on both ends to outscore the Lady Trojans 27-8 over the next two quarters.
“Our kids finally settled down and started playing some really good basketball, being patient and taking what the defense gave them,” Gainesville coach Brenda Hill-Gilmore said.
Taylor Hawks led Gainesville (5-3) with 14 points, and Shikiya Brown added eight points.
“It gave us some confidence, and we needed that after that loss to Wesleyan,” Hill-Gilmore said.
Sadie Cleveland and Tatum McQuillen each scored seven points for North Hall (4-4), which faces Lakeview Academy at 4 p.m. Friday in the White County Christmas Tournament. The Lady Trojans are adjusting to the loss of leading scorer Sydney Cleveland, who is out for the season with a torn ACL. They worked back from a 33-14 deficit through three quarters to cut it to the final margin.
“Our team’s trying to get over that (the loss of Cleveland) and put the pieces back together and figure out what our new identity is going to be and how we’re going to play without her on the floor because Sydney meant so much to our team on the court and also in the locker room and just as a teammate,” North Hall coach Kristi House said. “I was happy to see us fight there in the fourth quarter.”