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Top-ranked Laney knocks out East Hall, 92-67, in Class AAA quarterfinals
Jacquen Hopkins leads Vikings with 23 points
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East Hall's Jacquen Hopkins dribbles in towards the net while being guarded by Laney's Collin Young Thursday night during the East Hall vs. Laney basketball game in the quarterfinals of the Class AAA boys state tournament. - photo by Erin O. Smith

The Laney Wildcats were relentless on both ends of the court and East Hall couldn’t find an answer.

JaShawn Brooks’ game-high 25 points led Laney to a 92-67 Class AAA quarterfinal win Thursday night at East Hall. Brooks finished with five 3-pointers and scored 20 of his points after halftime.

The top-ranked Wildcats (29-1) extended their winning streak to 29 games since a season-opening loss to Class A No. 1 St. Francis.

Laney advances to face defending champion Morgan County (23-7) in Saturday’s semifinal at Columbus State.

Collin Young chipped in 17 points for the Wildcats, which got 13 points from Jaylen Taylor and nine apiece from Tommy Smith and Christian Keeling. East Hall coach Joe Dix said Laney’s effectiveness was a product of its simple attack.

“They ran one set play the entire game. They beat us on a back door to start the second half,” Dix said. “But other than that, it was, ‘I’ve got it, I’ll throw it to the man that’s open, he’ll finish, and if he doesn’t have something, we’ll throw it to somebody else and he’ll finish.’

“That’s what good teams do this time of the year.”

Laney coach Buck Harris said he doesn’t want to hold his kids back from showing their talents.

“They’ve got freedom on the offensive end to do some things,” Harris said. “And when you’ve got that kind of freedom, you’ve got confidence to go out there and make some plays.”

The Wildcats led 39-27 at the half after Brooks’ 3-pointer at the second-quarter buzzer, in large part thanks to their defense late in the half.

“We hang our hat on playing defense. That’s a testament to our guys,” Harris said. “Each and every day, we’re going to do something with defense. They know if we get stops, we’re going to get opportunities to score.”

They put the game away with 31 points in the next eight minutes for a 70-48 edge entering the fourth quarter. Even though Brooks didn’t heat up until the second half, Dix was well aware of Laney’s leading scorer.

“My son’s recruiting him at Tennessee Tech,” Dix said. “So I knew how good he was when my son says ‘we’ve got to have him.’ He’s high-level good.”

The toughest part, though, was that Dix recalled seeing three of Brooks’ teammates have similar performances in game film he had watched in preparation for Thursday.

“They had so many guys that could explode on any given night,” Dix said. “And this was his night.”

Harris said Brooks’ latest standout performance came as no surprise.

“He’s been doing it all year for us. He doesn’t score but 13 points (per game) for us, but he’s making sacrifices for us to be good,” Harris said. “He’s turning down shots, getting everybody involved. And I can’t be more pleased with that kid right now.”

The margin for error was small for the Vikings against such a powerful opponent.

“They were just better than us, and we knew we had to play really well,” Dix said. “I don’t think, watching them on film, my kids really got the feel for what they do. They’re well-coached. There was no foolishness out there going on with those guys.”

Jacquen Hopkins paced East Hall with 23 points, and Kyvon Davenport pitched in 18. Tylor Brown added nine for the Vikings, who finished the season 24-6.

Dix said his senior class of Davenport, Devin Watson, Roderick Hughey and Elijah Lipscomb proved its doubters wrong, with the highly-recruited Davenport bouncing back from having been cut from his middle school team.

“Four years ago they told me I wasn’t going to get anything out of this class,” Dix said.

Dix called the 2014-15 team a “good bunch of kids” who he enjoyed coaching.

“I wish we had another year with this group of guys,” Dix said.

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