Seeing a lack of focus in the locker room prior to Friday’s game against Dawson County, East Hall coach Joe Dix benched his usual starters in hopes they’d realize that no matter what, they needed to keep their focus.
It took a little more than a quarter, but the players got his message loud and clear.
After falling behind 14-6 after the first quarter, the 10th-ranked Vikings went on a 16-0 run to close out the half en route to a 61-39 win over the Tigers.
“I was not happy with the preparation before the game,” Dix said. “I was really upset so I made a complete change to see how they responded.”
Although the offense struggled early, the Vikings (14-5, 4-0 Region 8B-AA) responded on the defensive end in the second quarter, forcing eight turnovers and holding Dawson County (13-6, 2-4) to just four points on 2-of-9 shooting.
“We responded defensively first, then the offense caught up,” Dix said. “We need to play better offensively if we want to win a region title.”
Dix can look to the second quarter if he wants to show his team how it needs to play.
Trailing 18-11 early in the period, East Hall scored seven straight points to tie the game. A Dre Perry steal and lay-in gave East Hall its first lead of the game with 4:52 left in the half. The Vikings, who have now won seven of their last eight, never trailed again.
Kymon Woods’ put-back increased the lead to four, then Brian Edwards stole the ball and laid it in to put East Hall up six. J.C. Hampton, who finished with a team-high 10 points, hit a 3-pointer minutes later that capped the 16-0 run and sent the Vikings to intermission with a nine-point lead.
“We started clicking and emphasized defense,” said Perry, who finished with seven points. “We know (playing defense) is how we get wins.”
Shooting the ball well also helped the Vikings win, as the team shot 50 percent from the floor in the second quarter and 42 percent for the game.
“(Getting benched) motivated us and hit us really hard,” Perry said. “We realized we have to be mentally focused no matter who we play.”
Although Perry said the team wasn’t overlooking Dawson County, they were coming off a big win Tuesday over seventh-ranked Union County that gave the Vikings sole possession of first place in the subregion. Dix said he was a little concerned about a letdown.
“Good teams can’t allow that,” he said. “We have to play every night.”
That’s especially the case when playing a team like Dawson County, which likes to shoot 3-pointers and has the capability to get hot from the outside. That didn’t happen Friday — the Tigers went two of 19 from 3-point range — but they stayed in the game thanks to the play of Jacob Evans, who scored six of his game-high 14 points in the third period. Evans also finished with 11 rebounds, five of which came in the first quarter.
But Evans’ play in the third wasn’t enough, as East Hall stayed consistent on both ends of the floor and headed to the fourth quarter with a comfortable 44-30 lead.
The usual starters finished the game as they began it, but this time it was to rest up for today’s game against North Hall, not because of disciplinary reasons.
“We can’t play like we played tonight and beat North Hall,” Perry said. “We have to play focused, have no let-ups, and take whatever they throw at us.”
Despite a 33-point win the last time they faced the Trojans, Dix knows today’s game, especially with the quick turnaround, will be different.
“You have to do it to win a region championship,” he said of playing on back-to-back nights. “It’ll be a good test. I’m sure they’ll want a piece of us after the last time.”
Tonight’s game at North Hall starts at 5:30, with the girls game starting at 4 p.m.
Dawson County, which had won its previous two games before Friday, hosts Fannin County at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. The girls contest starts at 5 p.m. Tuesday.
DAWSON COUNTY GIRLS 42, EAST HALL 41: Allie Costley hit a layup with 15 seconds left, Jasmine Jenkins’ 3-pointer at the buzzer was blocked, as the Lady Tigers upset East Hall on Friday.
Trailing by six points with six minutes left in the fourth quarter, East Hall took the lead on a Morgan Jackson lay-in with 45 seconds left to play.
The Lady Vikings (9-8, 2-3 Region 8A-AA) didn’t have the lead for long, and after a scramble at midcourt that nearly resulted in a turnover for Dawson County, Costley was left wide open under the basket for an easy score.
East Hall had two attempts to win the game, but Jenkins’ first shot attempt was tipped out of bounds, and her shot from the corner with less than two seconds remaining was tipped and rebounded by Dawson County, which picked up its first region win.
Costley led the Lady Tigers with 12 points, while Carly Gilreath scored nine, all in the second half.
Jackson led East Hall with 13 points and Jenkins scored 11.