Lanierland boys 1st round: GHS, NHall, Bluff, Branch advance to semifinals

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter
Posted 10:45PM on Wednesday 27th December 2023 ( 4 months ago )

OAKWOOD, Ga. — Apparently, it was the schedule.

A young, newly-constructed Gainesville team, along with a new coach, came into the 2023 Lanierland tournament looking for its first win of the season after a brutal season-opening schedule left the Red Elephants sitting at 0-9. But every team they had faced sported a winning record; seven were ranked, and they had been using that to gear up for the 64th annual event that opened on Wednesday at the  West Hall gym.


It definitely seemed to pay off as Gainesville started strong and then cruised to a stunning 73-38 win over East Hall in the first round.

First-year coach Charlemagne Gibbons said he trusted that their early-season struggles would eventually bear some fruit.

“I put these guys through the gauntlet with that schedule,” Gibbons said. “It’s a young group. These guys have worked their tails off every day in practice. But I came here to have a chance to play for state titles, and that’s what we’re working on. Playing in a tournament format like this is a great opportunity.”

The two teams traded baskets early as it looked like it had the makings of another East Hall-Gainesville instant classic. Jay Walls and Xavier Griffin scored for Gainesville, while Jamarcus Harrison and Caden Crocker answered for East Hall to make it 4-4 in the first two minutes.

But the Red Elephants (1-9) had other ideas on another close game. Griffin sparked what would eventually become a 29-9 explosion into the second quarter for a 33-13 lead.

Baskets by Brandon Nelson and Ellis Pitts in the final 33 seconds pushed Gainesville’s lead to 43-19 by halftime. Griffin poured in 14 points, and Amari Chatman had 12 points in the first half as six different players scored for Gainesville.

Chris Alford hit a 3-pointer to open the second half for the Vikings to cut it to 43-22. But Gainesville answered again with treys by Luke Nordholz and Nelson to ignite a 19-4 run and a 62-26 lead.

East Hall (6-3) never got it back under 30 the rest of the way.

Chatman, one of just two seniors for the Red Elephants, finished with 22 points, including four 3-pointers, to pace Gainesville. Nordholz and Griffin each added 14 points, and Pitts had 7 for the Red Elephants.

Khalil Goss led East Hall with 8 points. Harrison had 7, and Chasen Jones and Alford had 6 each for the Vikings.

Gainesville next will take on Flowery Branch in the semifinals at 7:30 p.m. at Lakeview Academy.

East Hall drops into the consolation bracket and will play West Hall at 1:30 p.m. at Lakeview.


Chestatee’s Colton Wilbanks had 39 points and 13 rebounds.

However, it wasn’t enough to offset North Hall’s Matt Ray, Luke Sanders, and Cole Hulsey, who poured in 41 points to go with more than a dozen rebounds combined in the Trojans’ win on Wednesday in the first round of the Lanierland tournament.

The balance of North Hall (5-8) was too much to overcome for the War Eagles (4-8), as only Josh Bull (13 points) had more than 7 points for Chestatee. But it wasn’t until a 16-6 run late in the third and fourth quarters that the Trojans began to put some traction on their second straight semifinals.

“It was the guys’ effort,” new North Hall coach Jarvis Davenport said. “Their willingness to defend, share the basketball and share minutes on the court. We have a lot of guys who want to play, and they’re learning how to sacrifice for the team.”

Chestatee’s only first-half lead came midway through the first quarter on a 10-0 run, fueled by 6 points from Wilbanks. North Hall reclaimed the lead with a 6-0 run of its own and pushed its lead to 27-17 in the second quarter.

In the second quarter, the War Eagles took a 33-32 lead following 8 straight points from Wilbanks. North Hall rallied with 5 points in the final 30 seconds to take a 37-33 halftime lead.

The Trojans would not trail again but three times did Chestatee tie the game in the third quarter, the final time at 50 before North Hall began to pull away.

Ray finished with 18 points, Hulsey had 12, and Sanders 11 for North Hall.

Jack Tucker had 7 points for Chestatee.

The Trojans now will move on to play Cherokee Bluff at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday in the semifinals at Lakeview Academy. Chestatee falls into the consolation bracket and will take on Lakeview Academy at 10:30 p.m.


Logan Holmes and Tyler Underwood have been clutch all season. They were doubly so on Wednesday in the first round of the Lanierland tournament.

The Cherokee Bluff duo poured in 23 second-half points to lead a thrilling come-from-behind win over the Lions.

It’s nothing new to Bears coach Josh Travis.

“That’s not the first time we’ve seen that from those guys. That’s who they are. They’ve hit some big shots for us already this season,” Travis said.

It was a see-saw battle early on, with the lead changing hands seven times in the first 10 minutes. Five straight points by Boston Kersh gave Bluff a 10-7 lead. Junior Thompson’s trey for Lakeview capped an 8-2 run for a 15-12 lead late in the first quarter.

Bryce Horton reclaimed the lead 17-15 for the Bears (8-4) on a 3-pointer, but Lakeview answered with a 19-7 run and an eventual 34-26 halftime lead.

But that’s when Holmes and Underwood got going. The pair hit back-to-back 3-pointers to pull Bluff within 38-37 midway through the third, and a Tanaka Mukono basket capped the rally for a 39-38 lead.

An Underwood trey followed by a Horton trey pushed Bluff's lead to eight, and a Holmes 3-pointer with just over two minutes left in the fourth gave the Bears a 59-51 lead. But the Lions began their rally.

Tayden Ware, off an assist from Kyari Burch, capped a 13-4 Lakeview run to get within 61-59 with 49 seconds left. Mekhi Barber’s 3-pointer with 6 seconds trimmed the lead to 65-64, and one Underwood free throw made it 66-64.

Lakeview’s long-range 3-pointer at the buzzer for the win bounced off the backboard and rim as the Bears escaped to the semifinals.

Travis credited his defense and some close early-season games for sparking the comeback.

We spend all day every day working on our man defense. They do it well, they do it together, and they play so hard,” he said. “Playing the close games like we have this season really helps when you get into a tournament atmosphere like this.”

Cooper Glover paced Cherokee Bluff with 14 points. Holmes and Kersh each had 12 points, Underwood finished with 10, and Mukono had 9 for the Bears.

Burch led Lakeview (9-3) with 12 points. Barber had 10 and Justyce Sadler 9 for the Lions.

Cherokee Bluff now moves on to play North Hall at 4:30 p.m. at Lakeview on Thursday.

Lakeview will take on Chestatee in the consolation game at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday.


After dropping a tough first-round game to Gainesville last season in a back-and-forth affair, this time Flowery Branch was able to reverse that trend in the Lanierland tournament.

The Falcons outscored West Hall 17-14 in the fourth quarter to pull out the victory on Wednesday.

However, it didn't come without a tense finish as the Spartans missed a pair of 3-pointers in the final 4 seconds to preserve the win for the Falcons.

It also was the first-ever Lanierland win for new Falcons coach David Hawkins in his first-ever try.

“When you coach, you just hope to put the guys in a position to be able to make plays. They were able to do that down the stretch,” Hawkins said.

It was a defensive battle almost from the beginning. Branch (4-9) opened with three straight points from Jeremiah Ware, but the Spartans (4-7) answered with a 10-0 run into the second quarter.

But a pair of 3-pointers from Landon Mealor and another from Ware helped the Falcons rally for an 18-15 halftime lead. The Spartans answered that with a 10-2 run to open the third quarter, capped by a trey from Ian Pardue for a 25-20 lead.

Branch would get the final big run of the game, though, with Mealor draining consecutive 3-pointers to cap a 17-6 spurt into the fourth quarter for a 37-31 lead.

“We knew West Hall would make a run, and they did,” Hawkins said. “But our guys just kept pushing and pushing, and defensively, we played really well.”

Ware finished with 15 points to pace Flowery Branch. Mealor had 12 points on four 3-pointers, and Jordan Hayes added 10 points for the Falcons.

Troy Smith had 14 points, 10 in the fourth quarter, to lead West Hall. Xavier Felix had 9 for the Spartans.

Flowery Branch moves into the semifinals and will play Gainesville in Thursday’s 7:30 p.m. showdown at Lakeview Academy.

West Hall will take on East Hall at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday at Lakeview.

OPENING ROUND SCORES, Wednesday, Dec. 27

BOYS BRACKET (at West Hall)
Flowery Branch 45, West Hall 42
Cherokee Bluff 66, Lakeview 64
North Hall 77, Chestatee 66
Gainesville 73, East Hall 38

Flowery Branch's Jeremiah Ware shoots over West Hall's Teryk Tilley (24) during the Falcons' 45-42 win over the Spartans on Wednesday in the first round of the Lanierland tournament. (Photo/Courtney Kidd)
Lakeview Academy's Keelan Harper shoots over a pair of Cherokee Bluff players during the Lion' 66-64 loss to the Bears on Wednesday in the first round of the Lanierland tournament. (Photo/Courtney Kidd)
North Hall's Micah Jimerson (23) goes up for a shoot over a Chestatee defender during the Trojans' 77-66 win over the War Eagles on Wednesday in the first round of the Lanierland tournament. (Photo/Lee Heard)
Gainesville senior Amari Chatman led the Red Elephants to a stunning 73-38 win over East Hall on Wednesday in the first round of the Lanierland tournament. (Photo/Seth Chapman)

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