SAVANNAH — On a night when the North Hall Trojans couldn’t afford to miss any shots, they missed too many.
And Johnson-Savannah didn’t give any leeway, pulling away in the second quarter and holding back North Hall the rest of the way for a 56-34 decision Saturday in the state semifinals at Armstrong Atlantic University.
The Atom Smashers (24-6) will play Savannah in the state finals at 4:30 p.m. Saturday in Macon.
North Hall’s season is finished, but not before one of the program’s best seasons, which included wins over two ranked teams in the state tournament.
“They were 28-4, won Lanierland, beat a team (Buford) that’s in the Final 4,” North Hall coach Benjie Wood said. “There’s no other team of young men I’d rather coach than these right here.”
Wood said the Atom Smashers’ athleticism was hard to overcome, especially with North hall struggling from the floor. the Trojans finished just 3 of 18 from beyond the 3-point line, 11 of 30 overall.
After playing Johnson to an 11-all draw after one quarter, North Hall briefly took a 13-11 lead on a Griffin Olson jumper. Adrian Bonds responded with a shot of his own to even the score and spark an 11-2 run that put Johnson ahead 22-15 at the half.
Johnson coach Utaff Gordon said a change of defensive strategy helped to stymie the Trojans, who scored four points in the second.
“When we tried to attack them with our regular zone, they started back-door cutting us, so we had to change the defensive scheme to compete,” he said. “Because we have so much length, our hands could be in the passing lanes, and we could shrink the court with our athleticism.”
It only made it worse that one of North Hall’s leading scorers, forward Adam Kelly, missed much of the second quarter after being involved in a collision.
“That kind of shellshocked us for six or seven minutes,” Wood said. “And then we couldn’t recover.”
North Hall senior Ebo Smith led all scorers with 21 points, including 5 for 5 at the free throw line, and Kelly added eight.
Senior guard Greg Mortimer led Johnson with 20 points, and LSU signee Tim Quarterman added 18 for the Atom Smashers, who are back in the state finals for the first time since 1993. They last won a title in 1992.
Quarterman and Travon Elleby (eight points) combined for a high-flying force to help Johnson pull away.
Quarterman grabbed a steal and finished with a dunk for the Atom Smashers’ final point of the first half and added a second dunk in the second around two slams from Elleby.
Gordon said his team was extra focused after spending the previous night in their home gym.
“We spent the night in our gym, so that’s how zoned in we were,” he said. “They felt that it would be good to bond them, not just for tonight but for the state finals.”