North Hall struggled shooting throughout the region-tournament opener, but settled the game at the free throw line against East Hall in the fourth quarter at Greater Atlanta Christian.
After giving up a double-digit, first-half lead, Clark Howell knocked down all eight of his free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter to lock up a 57-50 win, securing a state playoff berth and spot in the 7-3A tournament semifinals.
“That’s why we want the ball in Clark’s hands,” North Hall coach Tyler Sanders said.
Howell also scored a team-high 19 points for the Trojans (18-8), while Luke Gunter scored 12.
East Hall climbed out of a hole in the first half as Imre Earls finished the game with six 3-pointers and a game-high 20 points for the Vikings (6-18).
With a shaky 1-point lead to open the fourth period, Howell knocked down his first pair of free throw tries to make the lead 46-43. After the Vikings got a basket on the other end from Malachi Vance, North Hall went down the floor and picked up another pair of free throws from Howell. After North Hall missed an opportunity to pad its lead in the final three minutes following a pair of missed free throws and six missed shots, Luke Gunter got the Trojans back on the board with an inside basket with 1:41 left to go.
Down by 7, Earls knocked down his final 3-pointer of the game with 13 seconds left to play, cutting the score to 55-50 and causing North Hall to call a timeout to set up for the final possession.
Howell drew the foul on the other end and hit both shots to make the final points of the game.
“We didn’t shoot the ball well, which has been the story of our season,” Sanders said. “But I commend them for how hard they played and found a way to win.”
Despite coming up short, East Hall made it interesting in the second and third quarters when Earls was unstoppable from long range.
Trailing by 12 in the second quarter, Earls banked in a 3-pointer, followed by another long shot from TJ Campbell.
Midway through the third quarter, the Vikings took their first lead with a basket from Christian Torres. East Hall led twice by 3 points — once on a basket from Torres and in the final seconds of the third period, then with a basket from Zion Cheeks.
Up next, North Hall will face Greater Atlanta Christian at 5:30 p.m. Friday at East Hall to see who opens the playoffs with a home game.