MURRAYVILLE -- North Hall coach Benjie Wood told Ethan Smith he expected him to score 30 points Friday night in the Lanierland semifinals against rival Gainesville.
The senior guard obliged with a career-best 39, including sinking four free throws in the final 13.8 seconds to lift the Trojans to a thrilling 72-70 win in overtime at the North Hall gym.
Smith practically piggy-backed the Trojans in the second half, pouring in 34 points after halftime, including nine of the Trojans' 12 points in overtime.
"Down the stretch he's our guy. He's a great clutch player," Wood said. "It was a great game between two good teams. We were lucky to come out with a win."
Smith said he just tried to answer the challenge, especially after North Hall went into halftime trailing 19-18.
"Coach told all of us at halftime that we needed to quit playing scared and step up and play," Smith said. "That's what I tried to do. The guys got me the ball and I just tried to make shots."
Smith hit shots from virtually every spot in the gym.
"I don't know if I was in the zone but I felt confident every time I shot it. Fortunately they just kept going in," Smith said.
North Hall (7-1) will take on Johnson for the title Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at North Hall. The Trojans are looking for their first title since 2009 while the Knights (10-1) have not won the annual event since 1988.
"Johnson is playing very well in all phases right now and we will have our hands full," Wood said. "It should be a great game between two good teams. I hope."
North Hall looked to have the game in hand late in the fourth quarter against Gainesville using a 15-6 run to build a 55-48 lead with 2:58 left in regulation. But the Elephants, behind Shaquan Cantrell, would not go quietly.
Cantrell had 18 of his team-high 24 in the second half and overtime, including draining a pair of free throws with 16 seconds left in regulation to send the game into overtime. The senior scored seven of the Elephants final 10 points in the final 1:38 of the fourth quarter.
In overtime, Adam Kelly gave the Trojans a 62-60 lead but Gainesville's Luke Moore hit a long 3-pointer to grab a one-point lead. Smith and Cantrell would trade two-point baskets and then 3-pointers for a 68-68 tie with 25 seconds left.
Smith would hit two free throws with 13.8 seconds left and Cantrell would tie the game at 70 on a driving layup with five seconds left. But Gainesville's Deshaun Watson was called for a foul with 2.9 seconds left and Smith would hit both free throws.
Cantrell just missed a floating 3-pointer at the buzzer to win it for Gainesville.
In the first half, North Hall opened strong with a 10-2 run in the first three minutes but Gainesville finally got going closing the first quarter with a 9-2 run to trail 12-9.
The Red Elephants would grab their first lead in the second quarter on a driving basket by Cantrell for a 17-16 lead. They would take a 19-18 lead into halftime.
The Elephants stayed hot to start the third quarter taking their biggest lead of the game, 35-30, on a Chase England basket with 1:07 left in the third quarter. But Smith, who had 13 points in the period, pulled the Trojans within 40-38 with a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Avery Cagle had 13 points and Kelly finished with 12 points for North Hall.
Moore finished with 13 points and Watson had 11 for Gainesville (1-6).