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North Hall, Johnson boys earn playoff spots and face each other next
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Johnson's Mitchell Dunham dribbles against Stephens County on Tuesday at Johnson High in the quarterfinals of the Region 8-AAAA tournament. The Knights won 71-50. - photo by Erin O. Smith

As the final seconds ticked off the clock, Carson Heinen dribbled before handing the ball to Brock Wingo. It was only fitting the ball ended up in Wingo’s hands.

The North Hall senior point guard was the driving force behind the Trojans’ 63-53 victory against Madison County in a Region 8-AAAA tournament quarterfinal at Johnson High on Tuesday night. With the win, the Trojans (14-12) punched their ticket to the Class AAAA state playoffs a year after going 6-20.

“They have worked hard for the last year to get to this point to where they can go to the state tournament, to be rewarded for it,” North Hall coach Tyler Sanders said.

Wingo scored 19 points and hit a pair of 3-pointers in a 13-0 fourth-quarter run after the Red Raiders had briefly taken their final lead, 43-42, on a Dylan Gentry 3-pointer with 5:52 remaining. By the end of the spurt, North Hall held a 55-43 edge on a Sam Jackson free throw with 1:34 left. Wingo had five total 3-pointers on the night.

“The biggest thing about these guys is they’ve been through so much,” Sanders said. “Even though they’re still a very young team overall, they’ve been through a lot together, and things don’t really faze them anymore. They’re cool under pressure.”

In a 20-second sequence in the middle of the decisive run, Wingo dribbled across midcourt and pulled up for a pivotal basket from behind the 3-point line to make it 50-43 before Evan Easton’s fast-break layup with 3:56 to go pushed it to a nine-point game.

“We needed some momentum, and I was feeling it,” Wingo said. “So I just stepped up and it went in.”

Carson Heinen poured in a team-high 20 points for North Hall, with Harry Harper adding 10.

The Trojans built a 20-4 lead through a quarter on the strength of six 3-pointers — two each by Harper, Wingo and Heinen. But an old-fashioned three-point play, a steal and a half-court shot in the final two seconds of the first half by Malik Freeman pulled Madison County within 26-24 at the half.

Freeman finished with a game-high 34 points.

The Red Raiders (14-12) continued their surge with a 14-4 spurt to start the third quarter, building a 38-30 lead. But North Hall didn’t blink, responding with a 9-1 run capped by a Wingo 3 to make it 39-all with 1:09 remaining in the third. Wingo also found a cutting Heinen for a basket, the foul and free throw during the run.

“I knew the game was on the line and I was a senior,” Wingo said. “And I didn’t want this to be my last game. So I told the boys, ‘We’ve got to step it up.’ And that’s what we did.”

It was 40-all going to the fourth quarter, and Heinen made it 42-40 in the Trojans’ favor on a pair of free throws 14 seconds into the fourth. That’s when Madison County held the ball for nearly two minutes before Gentry’s trey.

North Hall hit three second-half 3-pointers, but also got to the basket and found success at the free throw line.

“Coach Sanders was stressing to us before the game that we needed to go to the rim and get fouled if we weren’t making our 3s,” Heinen said. “And that’s what we tried to do.”

JOHNSON 71, STEPHENS COUNTY 50: The Knights had seen this movie before, and they weren’t about to settle for a repeat performance of their 54-46 double-overtime victory at Stephens County a week earlier.

Knights senior Roderick English picked up three fouls in the game’s first 4 minutes, 29 seconds, and Johnson was tied 17-all with the Indians early in the second quarter. But Ty Cockfield scored 10 of his game-high 28 points in the second quarter to put the Knights ahead 29-21 by halftime.

“We let their zone take us out of attack mode,” Johnson coach Jeff Steele said. “And when we started attacking in the third quarter, you saw what happened. They were going to attack it after that halftime speech.”

English returned in the third quarter and scored 14 of his 19 points in the second half. Johnson built a 60-33 lead through three quarters, powered in part by a 17-0 run, and led by as many as 31 points in the final quarter in securing a postseason spot.

Steele said the third quarter was the best defense his team has played all season.

“The defensive pressure changed the game,” Steele said. “They had to start playing our kind of game then.”

Andrew Sims chipped in 10 points for the Knights (25-0), who host North Hall at 8:30 p.m. Friday in the 8-AAAA semifinals. Johnson is chasing its third straight Region 8-AAAA title.

“It’s very exciting,” English said. “We just want to do something special for our coach. This is our senior year, so we’re just trying to do the best we can.”

Tay Jones paced Stephens County (8-19) with 14 points, and De’Undre Singleton pitched in 11.

BUFORD BOYS 54, CHESTATEE 33: Tre Hansborough led the Wolves with 17 points in the Region 8-AAAA tournament on Tuesday in Buford. The victory locks Buford into a spot in the Class AAAA state tournament.

Hunter Creamer had 12 points for Chestatee, which finishes the season 12-14 overall.

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