HOMER — One night removed from their first loss and most lackluster effort of the season, the Banks County boys looked headed for a repeat performance Saturday against an East Hall team it had beaten by 21 points earlier in the season.
The Class 2A fourth-ranked Leopards trailed 33-30 at the half and never led in the opening 16 minutes. Coach Mike Cleveland had seen enough and decided it was time to make some changes.
“We saw some things at the end of the half and decided we would move Carl (Cleveland) to the point to give (East Hall) some decisions on how to guard him. I think that was a big adjustment and it worked out,” Mike Cleveland said.
The younger Cleveland sparked an 11-2 run to open the third quarter and eventually led the Leopards to a tougher-than-expected 67-62 win at home.
The Leopards (9-1) never trailed again after the quick start to the second half, though they had to hold off several late charges by the Vikings (4-6) down the stretch.
Carl Cleveland, after a dismal shooting night in the loss to Lumpkin County, recorded a triple-double with 27 points, 19 rebounds, and 10 assists. In one stretch late in the first quarter to halftime, he was responsible for 10 consecutive Leopards’ baskets, including a pair of 3-pointers to go with six assists.
“That kind of gave us the idea," Mike Cleveland said. "We wanted them to have to decide whether to put a taller player on him or a shorter guy and no matter what that creates a matchup issue. When we made that switch that got the offense going.”
East Hall coach Seth Vining said there’s not many teams could do against Cleveland.
“Carl does so many things well,” Vining said. “He’s a good player and does give you a lot of things you have to defend. It’s a tough matchup.”
Bu East Hall, which came into the contest riding a three-game win streak, did not go away after falling behind 41-35. A Christian Torres basket to end the third quarter pulled the Vikings back within 46-45. A Malachi Vance bucket kept it at 48-47.
But Banks County got some separation with a 9-2 run for a 57-49 lead with 2:34 left. The Vikings inched closer on 3-pointers by TJ Campbell (57-52) and Imre Earls (65-62 with 11 seconds left) but could not get a shot at the equalizer.
The Leopards hit 6-of-8 free throws in the final 50 seconds to hold on. Banks County hit 13-of-19 free throws while East Hall managed just one free throw, and missed it, for the game.
“We had plenty of opportunities and missed too many shots,” Vining said. “We’re still young and a work in progress. We have to learn how to draw fouls. Most games are won by the team that generates free throws.”
Mike Cleveland said Saturday’s win was bigger than just knocking off a nearby rival.
“After a game like we had on Friday, anytime you’re coming off a loss you need to get that confidence back. This was an important win because you don’t want to start doubting yourself,” Cleveland said. “But I’ll tell what. East Hall is very improved and I think Coach Vining is going to have them at a good spot by the end of the season. That’s going to be a good team.”
Garrett Pressley finished 12 points and Dakota Orr had 9 points for Banks County.
Earls paced East hall with 15 points on five 3-pointers, while Campbell also hit 15. Torres finished with 14 points, and Aaron Thomas added 8 points for the Vikings.
Banks County next will play host to Commerce on Monday.
East Hall is off until opening Lanierland on Friday against West Hall.
EAST HALL GIRLS 43,
BANKS COUNTY 38
It was a game of runs where the Vikings had the last one.
East Hall closed out the game on a 7-0 spurt as it avenged a season-opening 46-31 loss to the Leopards. It also snapped a two-game losing streak for the Vikings (4-6).
East Hall coach Justin Wheeler said his group is starting to find its groove.
“I feel like we’ve improved a lot since that first game. We’re playing two freshmen and two sophomores and I just think the learning curve has improved with the younger girls,” Wheeler said.
Callie Dale poured in 16 points, including four 3-pointers, and Alexis Burce added 14 points as the pair combined to score all nine of the Vikings fourth-quarter points and the final 12 overall.
Both teams traded runs in the first half.
East Hall jumped out to a quick -2 lead capped by an Alexis Burce 3-pointer. Banks County countered with an 8-0 run to close out the first quarter to grab a 10-7 lead. The run eventually grew to 16-1 as the Leopards pushed their lead to 18-8 midway through the second quarter.
But East Hall answered back with a 12-3 run to pull within 21-20 in the final 90 seconds of the half. Banks County took a 23-20 lead into the intermission.
After a Burce 3-pointer to open the third quarter, Banks County opened up a 27-23 lead on a Haley Seahorn basket. But Dale sandwiched a pair of treys around a Tessa Rider 3-pointer as the Vikings used an 11-2 run to take a 34-29 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
The Leopards stormed back, however, with a 9-2 spurt, capped by a Heather Vaughn basket for a 38-36 lead with just over four minutes left. That would be their final points.
“I was proud of how the girls didn’t panic. We may be playing our best basketball right now,” Wheeler said.
Vaughn and Kamryn Grier each scored 9 points for Banks County (4-6) which has dropped two straight and four of its last five overall.