CARTERSVILLE -- East Hall coach Joe Dix didn't have a great view of the shot that held the fate of his Vikings' boys basketball season as the ball floated from the far corner -- but he knew who was shooting it. And he knew Cartersville's Dominique Richards had literally carried his Purple Hurricanes team through a first half of embarrassing basketball to the brink of what could be a crushing victory Tuesday night.
Even as Richards' shot hit the rim and hung a few suffocating seconds, Dix feared the worst.
"I thought the ball was going in," Dix said. "When it bounced up, I said, 'Oh my gosh. It's going in.' In the second half [Richards] was making them. To me it looked like a great look."
But the ball found only the tips of fingers, and the whistle blew to end East Hall's incredible 73-71 victory over Cartersville to move on to the Elite Eight round of the Class AAA tournament. The Vikings (24-6) will play another No. 1 seed, Hart County, 73-68 winners over Blessed Trinity, at Mount Zion High School on Saturday at 5:30 p.m.
The Vikings are now on the cusp of their 10th Final Four appearance in the past 13 seasons, a stunning feat for a team that graduated a bevy of talent and endured more losses this season than the last three combined.
"It's a little different team that we've had before," Dix said. "These kids, some of them have been a part of those runs and they understand what it takes to win. They found a way."
Kenneth Wise scored 14 points and added nine rebounds, four assists and four blocks for the Vikings. Josh Chapman added 12 points and six rebounds, and Kiante Young scored 12.
But none were more pivotal than the two Young scored on a reverse lay-up with 5.3 seconds left to give East Hall its final lead. The Vikings held the ball for the last 1:50 before Dix called a timeout with 15.7 seconds left to draw up their last play. On the ensuing inbounds, point guard Dedric Ware penetrated and drew two Cartersville defenders, leaving Young open on the baseline.
"I was expecting it," Young said. "I knew [Ware] was going to attack. I just had to make a shot."
The Purple Hurricanes (15-7) still had 5.3 seconds to run the length of the court to try to either extend a thrilling game or end it. East Hall's full-court pressure forced Richards' desperate attempt at the buzzer.
Richards finished with 21 points, including 13 in the pivotal third quarter when Cartersville reversed an 18-point halftime deficit and led to 63-59 by the end of third. Chris Palmore added 17 points and Donald Rucker scored 11.
"Gosh," Cartersville coach Dennis Godfrey said. "Tremendous effort. I knew we'd get a good look at the end. We just said, 'Let's make a 3 and go home.' And from my angle it looked good."
No team led by more than four in the dramatic fourth quarter. Cartersville took its biggest lead when Palmore converted both free throws in the double bonus to make it 65-61 with 6:51 left. East Hall answered with an 8-0 run capped by a pull-up jumper by Young for the Vikings' biggest lead of the quarter at 69-65.
It was a decidedly different style of basketball at that point. Everything East Hall was doing right in the first half -- the transition offense that led to 45 first-half points, the frantic full-court pressure that prevented Cartersville from finding a rhythm on offense -- suddenly was ineffective. Yet the Purple Hurricanes had no answer for Wise's athleticism or Trevor Bishop's deft shooting from behind the arc (nine points on 3-for-3 shooting from long range).
In fact, Bishop had no points after the first quarter. So he contributed in other ways, like drawing a charge on Davin Knowles to give the Vikings possession with the game tied at 71-71.
That's when Dix told his team to let the clock run out, letting the anticipation from a raucous crowd swell before Young gave his team at least another game to play this season.