If another reminder was needed that no lead is truly safe, Monday’s game between the boys of Gainesville and West Hall provided it.
The Spartans held a 26-point lead to start the fourth quarter but the Red Elephants started the period on a 14-2 run and rallied for the 64-62 win Monday in the first round of the Lanierland Tournament at Chestatee.
Trailing West Hall 62-61, Gainesville’s Tray Harrison drove into the lane and was fouled in the act of shooting with 30 seconds remaining. Harrison calmly stepped to the line and hit both shots to give the Red Elephants (7-2) a lead they would hold until the final buzzer.
Harrison finished the game with 16 points, 12 of which came in the fourth quarter.
“This was big,” Harrison said of the win. “I don’t even know if I believe it.”
While Harrison’s free throws were arguably the most important points scored in the game, it was the following play that may have been the most important moment.
Class AAA’s sixth-ranked Red Elephants went into a full-court press defense after Harrison’s second free throw, as they had been for most of the second half. West Hall’s Dre Pou took the inbound pass and dribbled through three defenders before getting a pass up court into the hands of Brandon Fuqua, who made a move toward the basket. Waiting for him was Gainesville’s A.J. Johnson.
Johnson, who is a football standout and often finds himself in foul trouble on the court, did not try and block Fuqua’s shot but rather kept his feet on the ground and a took a charge, giving Gainesville the ball with 14.6 seconds to go.
“That was hard, not jumping,” Johnson said. “But I knew they’d call a foul on me, they always do, and the game was on the line, so I took the charge.”
Javez Warren (15 points) added an insurance free throw with less than 10 seconds on the clock and the Red Elephants hung on for the come-from-behind victory.
“That was a tough one,” Gainesville coach Todd Cottrell said. “Obviously I’m happy about how we fought back and won, but for the first three or so quarters, we didn’t play very well.”
The Spartans (7-3) led 15-5 at the end of the first quarter and improved that lead to 32-18 going into halftime, thanks in part to nine first half points from Shunquez Stephens.
Stephens finished the game with 19 points, 17 rebounds and seven steals, all game-highs.
“This is awful,” Stephens said of the loss. “To have that lead and then just fall apart, it’s terrible.”
West Hall coach Warren Sellers said that his team got away from the gameplan during the final period.
“They put that full-court press on to try and make us hurry and it worked,” Sellers said. “We started taking quick shots and trying to run with them, which is exactly what they want. We just got out of our rhythm.
“But give Gainesville all the credit, they never quit and fought back and beat us.”
The Red Elephants scored 34 points in the final period, including nine points from Warren and 11 points from Shaquan Cantrell, who finished with 13. Johnson had 10 points for Gainesville.
West Hall put four of five starters in double-digit scoring, including Pou and William Stroup with 10 and Jarquise Young with 16.
Gainesville will play East Hall in the Lanierland semifinals at 6 p.m. Wednesday at West Hall.
In the consolation bracket, West Hall will play Chestatee at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday at Chestatee.
NORTH HALL BOYS 59, LAKEVIEW 45: Ethan Smith’s toughest shot of the night might also have been his best. With a hand in his face, he drained a 3-point basket to extend North Hall’s lead to 42-35 late in the third quarter on Monday at Chestatee.
He followed that with another 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter to give the Trojans their first 10-point lead, following a neck-and-neck third quarter.
Smith finished the game with 15 points and three 3-pointers and Preston Smith also added three 3-pointers and finished with 11 points for North Hall.
With the win, North Hall faces Flowery Branch in the Lanierland semifinals at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday at West Hall. Lakeview Academy (3-4) plays Johnson at 4:30 today in the consolation round at Chestatee.
After leading 23-19 at halftime, Lakeview Academy stayed in contention in the third quarter with physical play inside. After the Trojans went on a 10-4 run midway through the third period, Lakeview’s Austin Montgomery countered with a basket and foul shot for a 3-point play and closed the gap to within three points.
Austin Pearson led the Lions with 10 points and Mills Rogers added nine.
FLOWERY BRANCH BOYS 62, JOHNSON 59: The Falcons took their first lead of the second half, 47-45, with 1:12 left in the third quarter and withstood a rally in the final minute of the game to earn the win Monday.
Flowery Branch’s James Hodges led all scorers with 24 points, including two free throws with 50.6 seconds remaining that gave the Falcons a 60-53 lead.
Matt Hollis scored 22 points to lead Johnson (6-2), while Jalen Bowens added 13.
Rudy DeAza scored 18 points for Flowery Branch (3-3), which will play the winner of North Hall/Lakeview Academy at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at West Hall.
The Knights will face the loser of North Hall/Lakeview Academy at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at Chestatee.
EAST HALL BOYS 77, CHESTATEE 41: The Vikings won their first round matchup and qualified for the Lanierland semifinals for the sixth consecutive time.
Against the War Eagles, East Hall jumped to a commanding 20-6 lead after the first quarter, and added a good defensive effort in the second half to move one step closer to the tourney finals.
The Vikings will face Gainesville in the semifinals at 6 p.m. Wednesday at West Hall.
In the first quarter, J.C. Hampton scored nine of his 13 points with three 3-point baskets. It marked the most points East Hall scored as a team all season, but what matters most at this stage of the Lanierland is staying in the winner’s bracket.
“All that matters right now is that we survive and advance,” East Hall coach Joe Dix said.
With 10 seconds remaining in the first half, Hampton pulled down a rebound and scored on a missed 3-point shot from one of his teammates.
Kymon Woods scored a game-high 15 points for the Vikings, including a dunk at the tail end of a play started when he stole the ball from a Chestatee player.
Brian Edwards was also in double figures with 12 points for East Hall.
More soothing to Dix than the offensive production was the smothering defense his team played in the third quarter, even with a big lead already in hand. The Vikings outscored Chestatee 26-7 in the third quarter.
“Our defensive intensity really picked up in the third quarter,” Dix said. “We did a good job of coming out and re-focusing after halftime.”
For Chestatee (1-8), Keelan Passmore scored a game-high 12 points and Cole Morgan added nine. With the loss, the War Eagles face West Hall at 1:30 today in the consolation bracket at Chestatee.
Times sports writer Bill Murphy contributed to this report.