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Prep basketball: Vikings defend home court, turns back nationally ranked South Atlanta
East Hall’s Ken Wise, left, shakes hands with South Atlanta’s Derrick Favors after East Hall’s win Friday night at the East Hall High gymnasium.
GAINESVILLE — There are times where no sports cliché can do a game justice.

A game that started with an alley-oop pass and reverse dunk by the top-rated junior in nation, South Atlanta’s Derrick Favors.

A game in which South Atlanta had a10-0 lead one minute and 20 seconds into it.

A game that ended with a resilient East Hall team beating the top-ranked team in the state and, according to USA Today, the No. 15 team in the nation, 63-60.

There’s no cliché for that.

"(The Vikings) dug in when it looked like, well, when things weren’t going so well," East Hall coach Joe Dix said. "(South Atlanta was) so strong on the glass. We talked about settling down and chipping away at the lead and the kids had a couple of really great runs to give us the lead, and then they never relented down the stretch."

With the win, East Hall (23-6) moves into the second round of the Class AAA state tournament where it will face 6-AAA region champion Cartersville. Cartersville advanced with a 75-50 win over Stephens County on Friday.

At the beginning, the Vikings looked like an unranked team playing the No. 15 team in the nation.

The Hornets (27-3) dominated the boards and scored at will during the first two minutes. Then star center Favors went to the bench with two fouls with the score 14-2 in favor or South Atlanta.

"We talked about that openly in the game," Dix said. "Giving ourselves a chance to win with him out. He’s a great player and it changed the game with him not being in there."

Like a team with a weight lifted off its shoulders, a 6-foot, 8-inch weight to be exact, the Vikings relaxed and with the home crowd cheering them on, came storming back.

The Vikings went on a 9-2 run capped by a Trevor Bishop pull-up jumper and including a resounding one-handed dunk by Ken Wise that brought Valhalla to its feet to cut the Hornets’ lead to five.

East Hall didn’t let up there, coming to within one and taking the lead on back-to-back layups by Wise.

The senior finished with a game-high 18 points.

"He’s a stud," Dix said of Wise. "He doesn’t get the credit of being one of the best in the state, but he went up against the best in the state tonight and played tit-for-tat with him.

"Ken should be mentioned with those top-notch players in the state."

With the Vikings having settled into the game, the second quarter wasn’t as much about playing catch up as trying to build a lead.

It helped that, after coming back on the floor for the start of the quarter, Favors picked up his third foul two minutes in and spent the remainder of the half on the bench.

East Hall’s Joshten Hopkins helped out his team’s cause as well, scoring 11 points in the third quarter on 3-of-3 from behind the 3-point line.

Hopkins finished with 14 points.

"(Joshten) hadn’t shot the ball really well all year," Dix said. "We tried him at point guard and that wasn’t his natural position, but he’s flourished since we put him on the wing and took away the ball-handling responsibilities."

The eight-point lead the Vikings built in the second quarter wouldn’t last long, however, as South Atlanta ended the half on a 6-0 run to cut its deficit to two points at 38-36.

By then, the Vikings knew that they could not only compete with the No. 1 team in the state, but they could beat them.

The Vikings opened the second half on a 6-0 run to take a 44-36 lead, a lead that would be diminished by the end of the quarter with another South Atlanta run, this one ending with a Nick Watkins layup at the buzzer that cut East Hall’s lead to one at 55-54.

The team that started scared had become unflappable over the course of the game and it showed no more brightly than in the fourth quarter.

Until the end, the Vikings never held a lead bigger than two points and faced countless instances where with one possession, South Atlanta could take the lead and the momentum.

But East Hall simply would not permit it.

Using a stall offense for the better part of the final period, the Vikings held on to win, despite going only 2-of-9 from the free throw line down the stretch.

They also managed to draw two more fouls on Favors, who finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds, most of both coming in the third quarter.

South Atlanta was led in scoring by DeAndre Robuck who finished with 13 points.

"Dedric Ware played big down the stretch," Dix said. "He handled the ball for us and his ball handling was big. I thought Kasey Rylee’s toughness was big. He’s a six-foot post and battled a 6-10 post guy.

"I think tonight shows that we have a great team."

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