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North Hall boys' defense suffocates Fannin County to earn first region basketball win
Trojans force 22 turnovers with full-court press in 60-27 victory
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North Hall's Daniel Jackson (4) shoots the ball during the game between North Hall and Fannin County in Gainesville, on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017. - photo by David Barnes

Following the departure of a huge senior class from last year’s North Hall High boys basketball team, coach Tyler Sanders needed a different approach to fit his influx of new personnel.

So he adopted a full-court press to make use of his mostly inexperienced 16-man roster, half of which is comprised of sophomores. Sanders’ platoon system cycles in five fresh players every few minutes with a focus on aggressively attacking opposing offenses.

On Tuesday night, that strategic adjustment worked to perfection.

The Trojans’ relentless defense forced 22 turnovers and didn’t allow a single Fannin County player to record double-digit points in a 60-27 win in Gainesville. It was the kind of performance Sanders envisioned when he instituted his new scheme during summer workouts.

“Our personnel last year didn’t dictate that we’d have to play that way,” the fifth-year coach said. “But with the kids this year, we’re better off being aggressive and pressing. We’ve got 16 kids that are committed to playing that way.”

Senior guard Noah Holman scored a game-high 16 points as the Trojans (4-2, 1-1 Region 7-3A) earned their first win in region play this season. Classmate Taylor Hanson contributed 13 points for North Hall, which rolled out 12 players in its full-court assault.

“(The new system) is different and took some getting used to,” Holman said. “ … The conditioning definitely ramped up. We go full speed all the time. If not, you’re going to pay by getting sent to the bench or going to the line to run sprints.”

That was apparent from the opening tip.

The Trojans scored the game’s first 12 points and flustered the Rebels (1-5, 0-2 region), who didn’t get on the scoreboard until five minutes into the contest. Hanson nailed a 3-pointer from a couple feet behind the arc as the first-quarter buzzer sounded, putting North Hall ahead 19-4.

He struck again midway through the second quarter, knocking down treys on back-to-back possessions off assists from junior guard Daniel Jackson (six points, three steals). The Trojans led by 30 points at halftime by forcing 14 first-half turnovers and taking advantage of Fannin County in transition. 

“The press makes us who we are,” said Holman, who had 13 points at the break. “The press gets to teams and really irritates them.”

North Hall didn’t let up after halftime, and Sanders began deploying what little was left of his bench in the fourth quarter. Ryland Collins and Brock Cooper drained 3-pointers before fellow reserve Ty Smith scored the Trojans’ final bucket, all of which drew raucous cheers from their teammates and the student section.

“These kids all really care about each other,” Sanders said. “They care and are committed to being the best that they can be. That buy-in is what allows you to run this system.”

Thirteen of the 15 North Hall players who saw the court registered at least one point while limiting the Rebels’ leading scorer to just seven points.

It was perhaps the turnaround the Trojans needed after a rough first week of region play, during which they lost their region opener against No. 8 Greater Atlanta Christian on Dec. 4 before seeing their clash against seventh-ranked East Hall postponed due to snow Friday.

“Getting the first region win is a relief, but any win in region is big,” Sanders said. “The first one didn’t go our way, but we responded well tonight. We’ve got 12 (region games), so this one was definitely huge.”

North Hall is focused on keeping that momentum going when it hosts undefeated region foe Union County at 8:30 p.m. Friday.

NORTH HALL GIRLS 53, FANNIN COUNTY 27: Senior Natalie Nixon notched 19 points and nine rebounds as the Lady Trojans picked up their first region win of the season.

The Lady Rebels (4-3, 0-2) were within striking distance of cutting their deficit to single digits before North Hall (4-2, 1-1) ended the third quarter on a huge run to pull away for good. Lady Trojans senior Camilla Howell scored nine points, while teammate Ansleigh Ferguson had seven.

North Hall hosts Union County at 7 p.m. Friday.

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