GAINESVILLE — An emotionally exhausted and hoarse Joe Dix said it best with not only his demeanor, but his words.
With sweat running down his face and sitting for the first time all night, the East Hall coach said that his Vikings’ squad managed to make one more play than Flowery Branch and, in doing so, not only beat the Falcons 75-71 Friday night in the Jackson EMC 48th Annual Lanierland Basketball Tournament, but won their sixth straight tournament title.
The Falcons came out fast and strong and stunned the Vikings out of the gate with a 9-0 run thanks to five points from Josh Barrett and four points from Izaan Cross.
East Hall scored its first basket of the game three minutes in on a Trevor Bishop layup and pulled within one point of Flowery Branch on a Dedric Ware 3-pointer from the baseline.
With two minutes to go in the first quarter East Hall took its first lead of the game on a turnaround jumper by Patrick Hoggard.
The joy of a first lead didn’t last long, however, when on Flowery Branch’s ensuing possession Barrett hit his second 3-pointer of the night to give the Falcons a 14-12 advantage.
"They are the best team in Hall County I’ve coached against since I’ve been here," said East Hall coach Joe Dix. "In the 12 years I’ve been here they’re the best I’ve seen and you can write that down. They are serious business and they are going to give someone fits in the state tournament down the road."
Barrett finished the game with a team-high 18 points including five 3-pointers.
The Vikings began the first quarter fighting tooth and nail through an offensive onslaught by the Falcons and ended the quarter hitting eight straight, including a steal and layup by Josh Chapman at the first-quarter buzzer to give East Hall a seven-point lead.
The Flowery Branch team isn’t one to lay down and die no matter the atmosphere, and the Falcons began the second quarter much the same way they started the first, on a 12-0 run to retake the lead at 27-22.
Cross led the way during the run going for five points. The junior big man finished the game with 16 points.
"I told my team it was going to be a game of runs," Dix said. "Whoever made the most plays in the end would be the one to get the victory and we made one extra play."
East Hall would once again answer with a run of its own sparked by four straight by Ken Wise and a 3-pointer to tie it at 29 by Bishop.
The two East Hall seniors finished as the leading and second-leading scorers for their team with Wise scoring game-high 23 points and Bishop adding 14.
Free throws, which proved to be pivotal for East Hall down the stretch, gave the Vikings a one-point lead going into the half after Ware hitting both ends of a one-and-one.
The Vikings came out of the lockeroom at halftime and opened up their offensive arsenal going on a 19-4 run to take a 61-46 lead.
The run was once again led by East Hall’s trio of seniors in Wise, Ware and Bishop. The three hit for 17 of the 19 points during the run including two 3-pointers by Bishop, one by Ware and a cherry-on-top two-handed dunk by Wise that capped the run.
As was normal course for the game, however, Flowery Branch would come storming back and, despite being down 12 going into the fourth, pulled within five points of the Vikings lead on a Phillips Chau floater in the lane with two minutes to go in the game.
The Falcons went on a 6-0 run that tied the game at 69 sparked by a Barrett 3-pointer and ending on a layup by Cross.
Seniors Ware, Chapman and Tracey Gardner came up big at the end of the game going 6-for-10 from the free throw line to seal the win and yet another Lanierland Championship.
Ware, the Tournament MVP finished with 13 points.
Of the 75 points scored by the Vikings, 66 were scored by East Hall seniors who wouldn’t allow the school’s run of boys championships to end with them.
"They (the seniors) play so hard, they’re a great group of good kids and good students and there ain’t no quit in them," said Dix. "I call them the magnificent seven."
East Hall next plays in the Tampa Prep Classic in Tampa, Fla., beginning Dec. 26 while Flowery Branch returns to action at North Hall on Monday.