East Hall vs. Decatur
When: 7 tonight
Where: East Hall
Records: East Hall (23-5, No. 1 Region 8-AA); Decatur (20-9 No. 4 Region 6-AA)
Coaches: East Hall, Joe Dix; Decatur, Charlie Copp
Key players: East Hall, G/F Kymon Woods (6-5, Sr.); G Joshua Hampton (6-1, Jr.); C Sterling Bailey (6-6, Sr.). Decatur, PG Curtis Robinson (6-2, Jr.); SG Truman Jefferson (6-2, Sr.); SF B.J. Fisher (6-3, Sr.).
Outlook: East Hall won its 10th consecutive game and a Region 8-AA championship with a 61-54 win against Rabun County last Saturday in Tiger. The Vikings locked up the region title thanks to senior Dre Perry’s 18 points and 7-of-8 free throw shooting in the game’s final minute.
East Hall’s leading scorers are Hampton with 19 points and Woods with 15 points per game. Bailey is averaging eight points and 11 rebounds, and Chris Orr averages five blocks.
Decatur is making its third consecutive appearance in the state playoffs and has advanced to the second round each of the past two seasons. Jefferson is the Bulldogs’ main scoring force with 18 points and six rebounds per game. Fisher is averaging 12 points and seven boards.
Decatur qualified for the playoffs with a win against Westminster in the region tournament quarterfinals, but losses to Greater Atlanta Christian and Buford last weekend put the Bulldogs in 6-AA’s fourth position.
“East Hall is a very talented and athletic team,” Copp said. “They play extremely hard and are very well coached.
“Their up-tempo style and size will make you put forth a lot of effort and this will be our challenge.”
Gainesville vs. Troup
When: 6 tonight
Where: Troup High, LaGrange
Records: Gainesville (19-8, No. 3 8-AAA); Troup (20-4, No. 2 6-AAA)
Coaches: Gainesville, Todd Cottrell. Troup, Thermond Billingslea.
Key players: Gainesville, F Ke’Odric Sadler (6-3, Sr.); F Shaquan Cantrell (6-3, So.); SG Quon Holcomb (6-1, Sr.). Troup, G Eric Bridges (5-10, Jr.); G Lakeithin Buckner (5-10, Jr.).
Outlook: While Cottrell was disappointed in Gainesville’s loss in the semifinals of last week’s region tournament, he was equally pleased with the way his team bounced back to win the third-place game on Saturday. Now he must hope his team can carry that momentum forward.
The Red Elephants are back in the state playoffs for the 10th time in 11 years after a one-year hiatus. As sophomores, this year’s senior class experienced a deep run as Gainesville advanced to the state semifinals in 2009.
By contrast, this is Troup’s first playoff appearance since 2006, when the current Tiger seniors were in seventh grade.
Though his team has a size advantage as well, Cottrell doesn’t think it will make much of a difference.
“They’re so athletic, I don’t really know if a couple of inches is going to matter that much,” Cottrell said. “They jump really well, and they’re so quick”
Bridges is the focal point of the Tigers’ offense. Cottrell called him Troup’s “everything guy.”
“He can shoot,” Cottrell said, “but he’s more of a scorer who can shoot.”
Buckner is Troup’s true 3-point gunner, he added.
Both teams have spent much of the season in the state’s top 10 and are familiar with tough competition. Troup is 6-3 against Georgia playoff teams; Gainesville is 8-7.
West Hall vs. Shaw
When: 7 tonight
Records: West Hall (23-5, No. 2 Region 8-AAA); Shaw (19-9, No. 3 Region 6-AAA)
Coaches: West Hall, Warren Sellers. Shaw, Terry White.
Key players: West Hall, F Shunquez Stephens (6-5, Sr.); G Jarquise Young (5-7, Sr.); G Dre Pou (5-9, Sr.). Shaw, G Sean Buffen (6-2, So.); Torrion Brummitt (6-5, Jr.); Deionte Corprew (5-10, So.).
Outlook: After losing the region championship in the last seconds, the Spartans enter tonight’s first-round game focused on reaching the second round for the third straight season. That won’t be easy to do against Shaw, which likes to play up-tempo to use its speed as an advantage. The Raiders also boast a dominating presence inside in Brummitt, who had 33 points and 21 rebounds against Central-Carroll in the Region 6-AAA consolation game. The combination of the two has Sellers concerned.
“We’re going to have to make them attack a set defense,” he said. “We’re going to have to play strong defense without fouling.”
The Spartans used around 10 players per game during the regular season, but recently the majority of the minutes have gone to seniors William Stroup, Young, Pou, Stephens and his younger brother, sophomore Jamaad Stephens.
Shaw has depth and “crashes the boards well,” according to Sellers, who also said the Raiders’ top-three scorers all shoot at least 70 percent from the free throw line. Buffen leads Shaw with 15.4 points per game, while Brummitt averages 12 points and 9.1 rebounds.
Buford at Rabun County
When: 5 tonight
Records: Buford (20-8, No. 3 Region 6-AA); Rabun County (18-10, No. 2 Region 8-AA)
Coaches: Buford, Allen Whitehart. Rabun County, Jeff Page.
Key players: Buford, G Kyle Kellam (6-0, Jr.); F/C T.J. Shipes (6-7, Jr.); PG Alex Flagler (5-10, Sr.). Rabun County, SG Tanner Plemmons (6-2, Jr.); PG Dillon Bleckley (6-3, Jr.); F Chan Patterson (6-2, Jr.).
Outlook: Buford is enjoying its first winning season since 2007, when the Wolves went 24-6 and advanced to the AA quartefinals. Last season, they went 9-16. In this season’s region tournament, they lost to South Atlanta 61-48 in the 6-AA semifinals, but rebounded in the third-place game with a convincing 67-45 win over Decatur.
Flagler comes in averaging 17.6 in Buford’s last three games, including a 24-point effort in the Decatur win.
Rabun County is in the playoffs for the second year in a row — the Wildcats were eliminated in the first round of last year’s AA playoffs. The Wildcats are coming off a narrow 61-54 loss to East Hall in the 8-AA in the title game after winning their previous three by an average of 23 points.
The Wildcats are led by Plemmons, who averages 23.3 points a game. Patterson is a solid contributor with averages of 11.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and a team-high 1.5 steals.
Commerce vs. North Cobb Christian
When: 6 tonight
Records: Commerce (20-6, No. 4 Region 8-A); North Cobb Christian (26-2, No. 1 Region 6-A)
Coaches: Commerce, Chad Bridges; North Cobb Christian, Greg Matta
Key players: Commerce, G Brandon Romans (6-0, Sr.); G Tyler Gamble (6-0, Sr.); G Anthony Norris (6-2, Sr.). North Cobb Christian, SF Michael Matta (6-5, Sr.); G Corey Harris (5-11, Jr.).
Outlook: Coming off a 62-59 win over Region 9-A’s Landmark Christian on Tuesday in the state playoff preliminaries, the Tigers are seeking to improve in the state playoffs for the third consecutive year. After not making the playoffs in 2008, being eliminated in the first round in 2009, and making the quarterfinals last season, only a trip to Macon will satisfy Bridges.
The road won’t be easy though, and begins with high-scoring North Cobb Christian. Led by the inside-outside combination of Michael Matta and Harris, the Eagles have scored 80 or more points nine times this season and have scored more than 60 in all but three games. The first stage of slowing the Eagles’ offense will be stopping 6-foot-5 Matta, a job that will fall to 6-foot-3 senior center Marquese Butler.
If Commerce wants to keep up with the pace of North Cobb Christian, Romans and Gamble may carry the load at the guard position. Romans scored 24 and Gamble added 18 in the win over Landmark Christian, and the two seniors may need similar showings tonight.
North Cobb Christian’s two losses this season have come against opponents who do not compete in the Georgia High School Association, and Bridges knows that his team will have to play fundamentally sound with no mistakes to knock off the Eagles.