MARIETTA — Everything about Douglas Lipscomb Gymnasium states the obvious.
Wheeler has a long history of championship basketball. The crowded trophy case in the lobby and the five state championship banners hanging high on the wall are evidence of the success that the head coach Lipscomb has enjoyed in his 19 seasons.
So in only its second year of competition, Archer ventured into this difficult environment in search of another unlikely win in a Cinderella season.
Wheeler prevailed 73-56 to advance to the quarterfinals Saturday night, but Archer overcame an early case of stage fright to gamely battle the Region 5-AAAA champions. The youthful Tiger team, with only two seniors and led by a pair of sophomores, actually outscored Wheeler in the second half to give notice of a bright future
“Maybe tomorrow I will feel good about our future but not right now,” a disappointed Archer coach Tim Watkins said.
In the first half, the Tigers only scored 13 points and trailed by 18 at intermission. Archer was held to five points in the second period. Wheeler, led by shooting guard Karriem Simmons’ 10 points, seemed comfortably ahead and on cruise control through the first two periods.
Archer looked like a different team in the second half.
“We came out and made lots of mistakes in the first half because we were rushing things,” Watkins said. “So at half, we said, ‘Let’s calm down and do the things we planned to do.’”
That plan involved the impressive penetration and passing skills of sophomore point guard Randall Smith.
Smith fearlessly drove the lane and dished to another talented sophomore, shooting guard Bryan Hamlet, who 18 scored of his game-high 20 points in the second half. If Hamlet wasn’t scoring, Smith fired the ball inside to sturdy junior Jermaine Morris, who hit 10 of his 14 points in the second half.
Archer pulled within 13 points of Wheeler in the third period and was down by 14 entering the final period. After Smith hit a quick bucket to start the fourth quarter, Archer was within 12 points and brimming with confidence.
The push by Archer seemed to awaken a slumbering giant as Wheeler turned to its most talented player, 6-foot-5 small forward Nigel Snipes. Tall, quick and agile, Snipes ignited an 11-point run by Wheeler with eight consecutive points.
He had two three-point plays in a row when fouled on inside buckets, the second one a jam that excited the home crowd. The Wheeler surge increased its lead to 22 with just over four minutes to play.