In a three-minute span, the North Hall boys basketball team shook off its game-long struggles and turned into the region championship contender it was expected to be.
Trailing by one entering the fourth quarter of Friday’s Region 7-AAA tournament semifinal against East Hall, the Trojans hit four consecutive 3-pointers in the quarter’s first three minutes to kick-start a late rally and defeat the Vikings 69-54 for a spot in the tournament finals.
North Hall (24-2) had trailed the entirety of the game, but began chipping away at East Hall’s lead in the second half, then came completely back to life by outscoring East Hall 26-10 in the fourth quarter.
The barrage of 3-pointers began at the 7:17 mark of the quarter, as Ebo Smith scored the first of a pair of long-range jumpers to give the Trojans their first lead of the game. Griffin Olson followed with another two from beyond the arc, and North Hall was up by 11 just minutes after trailing 44-43.
It quickly erased what was until then a troublesome game for the Trojans, plagued with defensive inconsistencies and what coach Benjie Wood called “impatience.”
“We did not guard very well in the first half, and we were too impatient,” Wood said. “Our whole emphasis at halftime was our defensive intensity and getting matched up.”
North Hall moves on to the tournament finals at 8:30 tonight, where the Trojans will face No. 2 seed Buford for the championship.
The two teams have very recent history. They split the regular-season series, with North Hall winning the latter game 68-63 last Friday in Buford. The Trojans earned the top seed via coin flip.
“Last week’s game is in the past — it’ll have no bearing on (today’s) game,” Wood said. “We know it’s going to be tough, and we have to prepare. We have to take the next however long it is until we play them to rest our bodies and rest our minds.”
In that game, Smith left in the fourth quarter with a head injury and was not cleared to play again until Friday afternoon, just hours before facing East Hall (12-15).
The Trojans’ senior and leading scorer was solid as ever despite the short layoff. He scored 25 points off the bench, including 17 in the second half alone. With North Hall down 33-26 at halftime, he scored seven points in the third quarter and hit a pair of free throws to close out the period and give the Trojans a one-point deficit to work with in the fourth.
“One thing is for sure: I will never doubt Ebo Smith,” Wood said. “He’s a super young man, he’s a great competitor, he deserves every good thing that comes his way.”
Olson’s 18-point night included 12 points in the second half and 10 in the fourth.
East Hall was led by Brian Edwards, who finished the night with 24 points, including 10 baskets from the field. He was the Vikings only scorer in double figures.
Edwards scored eight points in the first quarter, as the Vikings jumped out to a 20-13 lead at the first buzzer. Kyvon Davenport took over scoring duties in the second quarter, where he scored six of his eight points on the night.
East Hall faces Dawson County in the consolation game at 5:30 tonight at North Hall. The winner will take the No. 3 seed from the region in the Class AAA state playoffs.
BUFORD BOYS 56, DAWSON COUNTY 30: The Wolves punched their ticket to the tournament finals with a dominant second half against the No. 3 seed Tigers.
With a 20-15 lead at halftime, Buford (21-6) outscored Dawson County 21-5 in the third quarter to take a commanding lead in the final period of play. The quarter included a 19-1 run by the Wolves.
Buford was led by Kyle Doyle, who scored 22 points before fouling out in the fourth quarter with the Wolves 54-27. Isaiah Williams also reached double figures with 11 points, while A.J. Davis finished with nine.
The Wolves all but won the game in the fourth with a 12-1 run to take a 55-28 lead.
Dawson County (21-6) had three players share the scoring lead with six points apiece. Gunnar Armstrong reached the mark in the first quarter, when he hit a pair of 3-pointers and kept the Tigers in the contest with an 11-8 deficit at the first buzzer. They trailed 20-15 at halftime.
Tyler Dominy and Jordan Sanderson also scored six points for Dawson County. Will Anglin added five.
BUFORD GIRLS 37, WHITE COUNTY 22: The Lady Wolves halted a late rally by the Lady Warriors to advance to the girls’ tournament finals Friday.
With a 27-13 lead entering the fourth quarter, Buford (21-6) found itself up by just seven at the midway point of the period, but the Lady Wolves managed to keep White County (15-11) off the scoreboard for the rest of the game with an 8-0 run to secure the win.
The Lady Wolves return to North Hall at 7 tonight to face Dawson County in the finals.
Kristina Nelson led the Lady Wolves with 14 points, while Mackenzie Darrah scored seven. Riley Slaton led the Lady Warriors with five points.
White County faces Fannin County in the consolation game at 4 p.m. today.