Benji Wood’s use of a fourth-quarter strategy in the second quarter allowed his North Hall Trojans to build a substantial lead, and when he used it in crunch time, it led to a close win over East Hall.
With the Trojans leading 59-57 with 14.3 seconds left in the game, Darius Curry stole a pass that led to a free throw by Ethan Smith to give North Hall a 60-57 win over the Vikings on Friday in East Hall.
Wood substituted Curry, his brother C.J. and Amin Aziz in and out of the game to give North Hall defenders capable of keeping up with the speedy guards from East Hall.
“East Hall is good, that’s why we did it,” Wood said. “It was hard for us to get in the press because they did such a great job getting the ball up the floor.”
The Trojans (4-0, No. 2 Class AAA) needed that strategy late in the game because East Hall (3-1, No. 4 Class AA) rallied from a 14-point deficit to tie the game at 55 on a pair of Joshua Hampton free throws with 1:28 left to play.
North Hall built a three-point lead on two free throws from Kanler Coker and another by Hamilton Harper. That lead was quickly cut to one on a Dre Perry pull-up jumper in the lane.
Smith increased the lead back to two points on another free throw, and after Darius Curry’s steal, sealed the win by making one of two foul shots. East Hall had a chance to tie at the buzzer, but Perry’s 3-pointer came up empty.
“The guys battled, I can’t ask for any more effort,” East Hall coach Joe Dix said. “We just didn’t make the plays. That was the difference; North Hall made plays.”
The Trojans also made their free throws when they needed to, something that can’t be said for the Vikings.
Despite attempting 19 free throws in the second half, East Hall converted on only five of them and they made only 10 of 30 for the game.
“It’s a matter of concentration,” Dix said. “We didn’t do the job.
“You’ve got to make free throws in a game like that.”
North Hall gave the Vikings plenty of free throw opportunities, committing 16 fouls in the second half. For the game, North Hall committed 27 fouls compared to 20 for East Hall, and the majority of the Vikings’ fouls came out of necessity late in the contest.
“It’s early in the season and you’re going to have some things you need to correct,” said Wood, who wouldn’t address the foul disparity in terms of the officiating.
The foul problems impacted North Hall’s Chris Barnes the most, as the senior was saddled with three fouls after just 2:30 into the game. Barnes finished 0-for-3 from the field and failed to score.
“He never got in any rhythm,” Wood said. “It’s too bad too, because he always plays well against East Hall. But he got down on himself and he’ll bounce back when we play again next week.”
The lack of production from a key player might have hampered most teams, but not the Trojans. North Hall had three players score in double digits, including Kanler Coker, who led the team with 15 points and 10 rebounds, Preston Smith (10 points) and Hamilton Harper (13 points). Imani Cross (nine points, nine rebounds) and Lance White (five assists, four steals) also came up big in the win.
The play of Coker, Harper and Preston Smith, as well as the offense-defense strategy, was key to the Trojans going on an 11-2 run in the second quarter and building a 30-18 lead. North Hall scored 25 points in the second and made five of its eight 3-point attempts.
But East Hall rallied in the third behind the 3-point shooting of Perry and Hayden Chapman, who made back-to-back 3s to get East Hall within seven points with a little more than two minutes left in the third.
While the outside shot got them closer, the Vikings needed the inside presence of Sterling Bailey to tie the game. Bailey had six of his nine offensive rebounds in the second half and finished the game with eight points and 13 rebounds.
“He’s a great athlete,” Wood said of Bailey. “They killed us on the boards.”
Hampton led East Hall with 13 points, while Perry and Kymon Woods each scored nine.
East Hall plays Class AAAAA’s No. 5 Norcross at 6:30 tonight at Greater Atlanta Christian. North Hall plays Swainsboro at 4:30 p.m. Friday at Philips Arena.
EAST HALL GIRLS 69, NORTH HALL 58: Morgan Jackson scored 23 points and Jasmine Jenkins had 19 points, nine rebounds and eight assists to lead the Lady Vikings to a win Friday in East Hall.
Taylor Bishop scored 11 points and grabbed five rebounds, while Kelsey Allen had eight rebounds and eight rebounds for East Hall (2-2).
MaryKate Rushton led North Hall with 18 points, five rebounds and three steals. Taylor Swoszowski scored 15 points and had three assists and three steals, and McKenna Rushton added 10 points, nine rebounds and two blocks for North Hall (1-4).
North Hall plays Swainsboro at 1 p.m. Friday at Philips Arena. East Hall doesn’t play again until Dec. 20 when it opens Lanierland against Johnson.