As if facing Greater Atlanta Christian and Air Force commit Charlie O’Briant wasn’t enough of a challenge, North Hall had to do it with a key player sidelined for most of the game.
Starting point guard Justin Rabb suffered an apparent head injury late in the first quarter Tuesday night, an unfortunate turn Trojans coach Tyler Sanders said played a significant role in the his team’s 52-45 loss to open their Region 7-AAA schedule.
Rabb’s absence was most apparent during a frustrating third quarter in which the Spartans (3-1, 1-0 Region 7-AAA) used a 15-3 run to stretch their two-point halftime lead.
“We were scrambling a little bit. We had a guy missing,” Sanders said of North Hall’s performance in the third quarter, during which it didn’t make a shot from the field. “We went through a little stretch where we just had to find ourselves for a little while.”
Sanders did not have an official update on Rabb, who appeared to slam his head against the hardwood after leaping for a rebound.
“We’ll look at him tomorrow, and we’ll see what it is and do what’s best for Justin,” the coach said.
Sanders and the Trojans (3-3, 0-1) had a more immediate problem on their hands — slowing down the versatile O’Briant.
The 6-foot-8 stretch forward turned out a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds. O’Briant showcased nearly every part of his game, scoring off the dribble and in the low post while even draining a 3-pointer.
“When your tallest player is 6-3, and he’s a 6-8 Division I post player, it gives you a challenge,” Sanders said. “I thought all of our kids, especially Jake Meeler, did everything that we asked them to do.”
Meeler finished with four rebounds to help offset O’Briant’s post presence, but the Air Force-bound forward and his teammates were ultimately too much for the Trojans to handle.
The teams played a tight first quarter before a string of runs took over in the second. O’Briant helped Greater Atlanta Christian take a seven-point lead, but North Hall’s Alden Lewallen completed a 3-point play to spark a flurry before halftime. The Spartans led 31-29 at the break.
Hunter McIntosh, who led all scorers with 16 points on top of eight rebounds and two steals, opened the third quarter with a pair of 3-pointers to which North Hall struggled to respond. Facing a 46-32 deficit in the final period, Sanders urged his players to get back to basics, even without their starting point guard.
“I just told them just to go back to doing what was successful before and always successful for us.” he said. “We were down 14. We were nowhere near out of it, and we were going to be fine.”
Aggressive defense helped the Trojans reduce the deficit to five twice in the final minutes. Evan Easton scored eight of his team-high 15 points in the fourth quarter, and Lewallen drilled a 3-pointer to pull North Hall within 48-43 with less than three minutes left.
But Greater Atlanta Christian closed out the contest by going 4 for 4 at the free-throw line. O’Briant sunk the final two shots from the foul line and came up with a huge block in the final minute to seal the game.
Easton added 10 rebounds for a double-double, while Lewallen’s 11 points made him the only other Trojans to score in double-digits.
Despite the loss, Sanders praised his players for hanging tough even after their floor general went down.
“Everybody did a great job,” Sanders said. “I couldn’t ask any more of our kids. They fought their tails off.”
North Hall will continue region play against East Hall at 8:30 p.m. Friday.
GREATER ATLANTA CHRISTIAN GIRLS 65, NORTH HALL 39: Just minutes into the game, Greater Atlanta had built a lead North Hall couldn’t overcome.
A 12-2 opening run had the Trojans playing catch-up all night. Caria Reynolds did most of her work during the opening quarter, scoring eight of her 12 points and controlling the glass as the Spartans (5-4, 1-0) raced out to a commanding lead in the region opener for both squads.
A full-court press by North Hall (3-3, 0-1) briefly stopped the opening salvo, but Greater Atlanta Christian eventually stretched its lead to 30-11. Trojans coach Kristi House rolled out a 2-3 zone late in the first half to counteract the Spartans’ domination down low.
North Hall trailed 37-21 at halftime and never reduced the deficit to less than 16 in a mostly back-and-forth second half. Four Greater Atlanta Christian players tallied at last 12 points, and Lexi Mann led the way by almost recording a double-double with 12 points and nine rebounds.
Sadie Cleveland was the Trojans’ leading scorer with 11 points. Taylor Anne Kelley provided some outside scoring with a trio of 3-pointers.
North Hall faces East Hall at 7 p.m. Friday.