OAKWOOD — After starting the season 11-0, the West Hall boys went through a little rut. It’s safe to say they’re back.
The Spartans (19-4, 5-3 Region 7B-AAA) shot nearly 50 percent and outrebounded Flowery Branch (11-10, 5-3) 30-14 to win their fifth-straight game and tie the Falcons for second place in the subregion.
"We just wanted it," Spartans guard Kevon Williams said after the 54-39 win over the Falcons on Friday in Oakwood. "We were going to do whatever we could to get into second place."
That focus was evident in the second quarter, as the Spartans shook off a 4-for-12 shooting performance in the first quarter to outscore the Falcons 13-5, missing just three shots in the process.
While they didn’t miss much, when they did, Spartans sophomore Shunquez Stephens was there to get the rebound. The 6-foot-4 forward finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds in the first half and 14 boards for the game, which was one less than the entire Flowery Branch team.
"No doubt Shunquez made a difference tonight on the boards," said Flowery Branch coach Duke Mullis, whose team was playing without post player Ishmael Hollis and guard Rashad Tate, who were unable to practice all week due to illness.
"We were a lot smaller tonight," Mullis added. "I thought West Hall shot the ball extremely well, and we’re finding out lately the game is that simple. If you shoot well, you’re going to win."
Neither team shot well from the start, but when West Hall found its shooting touch, Flowery Branch still struggled. West Hall shot 54 percent from the second quarter on, while the Falcons made only 10 of their 31 attempts.
"We played great defense," Spartans coach Warren Sellers said. "It was a great defense effort on our part. I was real pleased with the way we closed out on their shooters."
No Falcon felt that effect more than Flowery Branch sharpshooter Josh Barrett, who was held to 11 points on 4-of-14 from the field.
"Our focus was to do whatever it takes to get to him once he got the ball," Williams said. "We didn’t want to let him get open looks."
West Hall’s shooters had nothing but open looks.
Three times Terrell Penland drove to the basket and kicked the ball out for wide-open 3-pointers, two coming from Jarquise Young, who started the game to provide the Spartans with more speed in the backcourt.
Williams also benefitted from the open shots, finishing with a game-high 16 points, including four 3-pointers.
"We just shot the ball well tonight," Sellers said. "I don’t know what it was. We’ve been shooting more in practice and I guess it’s starting to help."
Williams’ reasoning was much more simple.
"We practice in this gym every day," he said. "We should make the majority of our shots here."
Taking in the outstanding shooting performance was former Spartan Martrez Milner, whose No. 7 football jersey was retired prior to the start of the boys game. It is the first time a football jersey has been retired in school history.
The current New York Giants tight end left before West Hall’s most open shot of the night, a fastbreak dunk by Marquise Stephens in the fourth quarter that sent the crowd into a frenzy and gave the Spartans an 18-point lead.
"It was just a total team effort," Sellers said. "We knew that second place was one of the implications, but we have to finish with two tough ones."
The first of those tough games is Tuesday night when West Hall visits first-place Gainesville, which lost 73-66 in overtime to East Hall on Friday. A win over the Red Elephants on Tuesday would put the Spartans in first place.
Flowery Branch plays host to Lumpkin County at 7:30 tonight.
Flowery Branch girls 36, West Hall 22
Behind a tough defense and a 16-point performance by Jessica Harper, the Flowery Branch Lady Falcons avenged an earlier season loss to West Hall.
The Lady Falcons (7-14, 3-5 Region 7B-AAA) held West Hall scoreless from a layup at the start of the second quarter to midway through the third period. They forced 24 turnovers and held West Hall to a 6-for-32 (18 percent) shooting night.
The Lady Spartans (8-14, 2-6) were led by senior Jayla Moon, who scored 10 points with 12 rebounds and five steals.
Clare Tyler scored six points with six rebounds, three steals and four blocks for Flowery Branch.