Photo: Karl L. Moore Archer's Randall Smith (3) drives in past Berkmar's James Sanders (15) for the layup during a game at Archer earlier in the season.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- With a new semester having just started for Gwinnett County schools, it might seem a little early for strenuous exams.
Yet, with the high school basketball season having reached roughly its midway point, it seems the perfect time for another one for Archer's boys.
And while the Tigers, who currently lead rugged Region 8-AAAAAA at 7-0, have already passed some tough tests so far this season, they face perhaps their biggest to date when Shiloh comes to Archer Tuesday night for a 7:30 tipoff.
"This is the mid-term exam," said Tigers guard Bryan Hamlet. "We knew everybody liked (Shiloh in preseason predictions). We've been waiting for this. We're not going to back down from them. And it's our home court, so we're not going to give in easily."
Archer has shown no signs of giving in to anyone so far this season.
The Tigers have rolled up an impressive 12-2 overall record that includes an overtime win over two-time defending region tournament champion Berkmar and region upstarts Dacula and Brookwood, plus traditional state powerhouses Marist and Johnson-Savannah, with the only two losses coming to equally strong teams in Valdosta and Miller Grove.
"This is the purpose of scheduling a lot of tough out of region teams, and they're in the same situation," Archer coach Tim Watkins said of Tuesday's big game. "We're just showing some maturity right now. Randall (Smith) and Bryan have been leading us, and Nafis (Floyd) has really come on lately and given us another leader who has the ability to make plays at key times."
Archer, and Smith in particular, has done a great job of making plays at key times lately.
The 5-foot-10 senior guard, who is averaging 16.4 points and a county-best 5.2 assists per game, has come up with clutch shots in the final seconds of the team's last three wins, including a buzzer-beating layup in the Tigers' 77-75 win over Dacula last Saturday.
Add in a team-best 17.2 points per game from Hamlet, who has been a part of Archer's starting backcourt with Smith for the past four seasons, the Tigers have a steady guard tandem that has provided plenty of cohesiveness and leadership.
And Hamlet knows they'll need to be at their best vs. the Generals.
Shiloh's 7-1 junior Trayvon Reed may cast the highest-profile of any individual player in Tuesday's contest, and figures to be a handful for Archer's low-post duo of 6-8 Aubrey Overby and 6-5 Kelvin Nwanze.
However, an even bigger key may be how well the Tigers' trio of Hamlet, Smith and Floyd (8.8 ppg) can match-up with the Generals' equally-talented backcourt, which includes senior Evyn Smith and junior Nate Mason.
"We know Mason and (Evyn) Smith are probably the two best guards in the county," Hamlet said. "Me and Randall coming in (playing) four years together, that will be real good competition for us. We know how good they are, but we're not going to back down from them.
"We're playing as a team. We're working hard every day. We have a lot of chemistry, so we know what's expected of us. We know our goals. (Tonight) is a really big test for us."