Staff Photo: John Bohn Archer's Kelvin Nwanze (14) has a shot blocked by Central's Justin Martin (20) during the first period of a first round Region 8-AAAAAA Basketball Tournament played Tuesday at South Gwinnett High School.
SNELLVILLE -- A second chance a year in the making made for early nerves.
Archer, ousted a season ago by Central Gwinnett in the first round of the Region 8-AAAAAA tournament to end its season, got a second chance against the same Black Knights on Tuesday.
"We came out playing not to lose," Archer head coach Tim Watkins said.
Senior guard Bryan Hamlet said they were "a little nervous."
Those nerves led to a fast Central start as the Black Knights took an eight-point halftime lead.
"Down at halftime, you got to go," Watkins said.
And go Archer did. The Tigers, led by their senior guards Hamlet and Randall Smith, out-scored Central 25-14 in the quarter on their way to a 62-59 win. The win secured a spot in the Class AAAAAA state tournament for the Tigers and ended an impressive run of six straight state playoff appearances for Central Gwinnett. Archer plays the winner of today's South Gwinnett-Dacula game on Friday at 5:30 p.m, but no matter the outcome, the Tigers know they have more than one game left to play.
"This is the toughest night for two reasons," Watkins said, "one, it's win or go home and two, our region is so tough."
Nothing proves that more than last year's game and the closeness of the No. 2-seeded Tigers against the No. 7 seed Central.
Central forced five turnovers in the first quarter and Justin Martin turned in a big eight minutes, scoring eight of his 11 points, as the Black Knights took a 13-9 lead. Central built on the lead in the second quarter by holding Archer to just two field goals and taking a 24-16 lead into the locker room.
Watkins and his staff turned to Smith and Hamlet during the break, imploring the seniors for leadership. Assistant coach Len Garner pulled Hamlet aside and personally challenged him to be a leader.
"He told me to get going," Hamlet said.
Whatever the words, they were what Hamlet needed. The guard scored 14 points in the quarter, hitting a pair of 3s and the eight-point deficit turned into a three-point lead.
"It felt good," Hamlet said. "After I made the first shot, I just kept going."
Archer hit four 3s in the quarter and was 7 of 8 from the free-throw line. Hamlet ended the night with a game-high 23 points.
"He can get rolling," Watkins said. "And when he does it's our job to get him the basketball."
Hamlet turned the game over to Smith in the fourth quarter. The fellow-senior scored 11 of the Tigers' 21 points in the final quarter, ending the night with 21.
But Central didn't go quietly. Guard Brian Egejuru scored 11 of his 14 points in the quarter, keeping the Black Knights within striking distance. But Archer made 10 of its 12 free throws and a game-tying 3-point attempt by Central came up just short at the buzzer.
Shiloh 71, Grayson 35
Shiloh scored 14 points before Grayson scored its first point, a free throw, and the Generals had 25 points when the Rams hit their first field goal, a 3-pointer in the second quarter, and it wasn't until four minutes into the third quarter that Grayson made a two-point basket. By then, it was a 50-15 Shiloh lead.
At no point in the Generals' 71-35 win over Grayson did the two teams appear as evenly matched as they played in the regular season. In Shiloh's two previous wins over Grayson, the total margin of victory was five points.
The win sets the Class AAAAAA state playoff-bound Generals up with the winner of today's Brookwood-Berkmar game.
Nate Mason and Kyle Lewis led the Generals with 21 points apiece.
Evyn Smith had five assists to go with his eight points and seven-footer Trayvon Reed spent his night blocking shots. Reed had more blocks (six) and rebounds (four) then his two points, spending much of his night trading elbows with Grayson's Robert Nkemdiche, who had seven rebounds and four points in his last high school game.
Marquise Lanier and Kalan Hawkins led the Rams with nine points each.