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Trojans make it to state semifinals for first time ever
North Hall's Chris Barnes leaps from his chair at the end of the Trojans' Saturday afternoon playoff win over Riverwood at the Northwest Georgia Trade and Convention Center in Dalton.
DALTON — North Hall boys basketball coach Benjie Wood was starting to well with tears of joy after Saturday’s 53-49 win over Riverwood in the state quarterfinals Saturday.

Four years of dedication to the Trojans’ program came to the surface after leading his team to the program’s first ever state semifinals appearance.

With the win, North Hall faces top-ranked LaGrange (30-0) at 8:30 p.m. Friday at the Macon Centreplex.

“This is something that these guys are going to remember for the rest of their lives,” Wood said.

“I’m so proud of these guys, because this is something that they’ve worked so hard for all season.”

“To make the state semifinals is what we’ve worked so hard for and it just doesn’t seem real yet,” North Hall’s Lance White said walking off the court.

The Trojans (27-3) didn’t make things easy for themselves in the second half.

Riverwood’s Darius King drove cross court for a layup off a steal to take a 46-38 with only 4:30 left in the game. On top of that, the Trojans were struggling shooting, hitting only five of their first 22 shots in the second half.

“We live and die with our ability to shoot the ball, and we couldn’t hit anything for most of the second half,” White said.

With such a big lead to cut into late in the fourth quarter, North Hall starting throwing up 3-pointers — and hitting them all.

Trojans junior Chris Barnes hit the first of three consecutive 3-pointers in the fourth quarter starting with 3:55 left, cutting Riverwood’s lead to 46-41.

However, Barnes, one of North Hall’s best 3-point shooters, fouled out on the next trip down court by Riverwood.

“When I fouled out, I told the team they hard to go hard or go home,” Barnes said.

They listened.

Only 10 seconds later, Chase Syfan hit a 3-pointer for North Hall and freshman Ethan Smith hit another on the next trip down court.

Smith’s 3-point basket was his only shot of the game and tied the game at 47-47.

With the score tied, North Hall took the lead with a pair of free throws from White at 49-48 with 1:25 left in the game — it’s first lead since late in the first half.

In the final two minutes of the game, North Hall was 6-of-8 shooting from the free throw line, including a pair of foul shots by White to give the Trojans a 51-48 lead.

Chase Syfan’s free throw for North Hall with only 8 seconds left to play made it a two-possession lead, securing the Trojans victory.

“I didn’t think we were going to make it with the way we were shooting for most of the second half, but we stepped up and our defense did a great job,” White added.

Syfan had a game-high 10 points and five rebounds for North Hall. Trevor Ross and Barnes each added eight points for the Trojans.

Early in the game, the story was the shooting for Riverwood that set the tone of the game. After North Hall took a 5-0 lead to open the game, Riverwood went on a 12-4 run to take a 12-9 lead with 2:20 left in the first quarter.

During the first half, the game was a back-and-forth contest with 11 ties and a six-point run by each team resulting in a 28-27 lead by Riverwood heading into halftime. Raiders guard Alex Vital scored 11 of his 14 points in the opening half. Vital’s rebound and layup with 6:10 left in the game gave the Raiders their biggest lead at 42-34.

“We knew that Riverwood had a good team,” Wood said. “And sometimes you have an off night.

“For most of the second half, we couldn’t buy a basket.”

This mark’s Wood’s third time leading a team to the state semfinals. He was coach of the Johnson girls when it went to the round of four in 2005 and 2006.

Riverwood’s season is now finished.
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