CARROLLTON — Just when things began to get a little tense late Wednesday night, Tim Criswell broke into the Carrollton High School football playbook.
Having just missed the front end of back-to-back 1-and-1s in the closing minutes of the Class AAA second-round playoff contest and ultimately allowing North Hall to cut a 16-point fourth-quarter lead down to four, the Carrollton High School boys basketball coach dialed up a deep pass to Josh Barge — the Trojans’ standout wide receiver that made a living pulling down big-time passes in the fall.
Streaking down the middle of the court, Barge leaped into the air to haul in Riley Criswell’s heave from the far baseline between a pair of North Hall defenders. Upon coming down with the ball, Barge was fouled with 1:04 remaining.
The Carrollton senior guard knocked down both free throws to calm the home crowd, setting up a stretch where top-seeded Carrollton hit 6-of-6 from the free throw line in the final 64 seconds to seal the 54-45 victory over the Trojans and send Carrollton to the state quarterfinals on Saturday night in Dalton against the No. 1 team in the state, Columbia.
North Hall’s season is complete.
“Coach (Jake) Underwood, my assistant, said we can get it. We can run it. So we slipped (Barge) out there. You know, if that balls up in the air, I’ll take my chances with Josh getting it against just about anybody,” coach Criswell said. “So he got fouled and made the free throws, so that was a real big play.”
Barge said when given the chance to make up for his missed front end just moments earlier, he wanted that opportunity.
“After I missed my free throw, I just told myself that I’m not going to let it end like this. So I caught that ball and I got fouled. I went to the free-throw line and I just had it in my mind that I’m going to make these free throws and we’re going to get the ball back and it’s going to be a free-throw game from here on out. Me and Telvin Brown came through at the free-throw line,” said Barge, who led Carrollton with 16 points, including a 4-for-4 showing at the free throw line in the final 1:04.
Second-seeded North Hall (24-6) fell behind 12-3 in the opening minutes and trailed 28-15 at the half, as it could get little going offensively against Carrollton’s tenacious defense.
North Hall coach Benjie Wood said his team didn’t respond well in the early moments of the game.
“They play really good defense. We made a few mistakes, and you can’t do that against a good team,” Wood said. “Give them credit, every time we slipped up and made one little mistake, they took advantage of it. They’re not ranked No. 2 in the state for nothing.”
Up 13 at the half, Carrollton (26-3) saw its lead cut to seven after back-to-back Imani Cross field goals late in the third quarter, but senior guard Torrey Johnson dropped a 3-pointer in the final seconds of the quarter to push Carrollton’s advantage back to double digits at 35-25 going into the fourth.
Johnson, who had just two points in the first half, kept the hot hand, knocking down two more treys in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter to stretch Carrollton’s lead to 43-27.
“He didn’t shoot well in the first half, but he made some there in the second half that gave us a little cushion,” Criswell said of Johnson, who finished with 11 points.
But behind junior point guard Ebo Smith — who led all scorers with 18 points — North Hall made a strong push down the stretch. Smith’s 3-pointer with 1:43 left cut it to a six-point game and after Barge was whistled for a charge, Avery Cagle dropped in a floater to make it a 46-42 contest with 1:07 left — the closest it had been since it was 6-2 in the opening minutes of the night.
Behind Barge and Brown’s free-throw shooting and some solid defense on the other end, though, Carrollton was able to hang on.