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Archer boys survive second-half surge

LAWRENCEVILLE -- The Archer boys basketball team is counting its blessings after surviving a near comeback by Cherokee.

In the end, two Randall Smith free throws sent the Tigers into the second round with a 47-45 win in the Class AAAAAA playoffs.

"I couldn't be prouder of my guys," said Archer head coach Tim Watkins. "We played our pace in the first half, but they forced us to play theirs in the second half. We're excited about the win and excited for Saturday."

After jumping out to an 18-7 lead after the first quarter, the Tigers (22-7) seemingly had the game in the bag as they dominated in all phases of the game. The lead was thanks in large part to 12 first-quarter points by Bryan Hamlet.

Hamlet continued his scoring run in the second quarter, nailing a 3-pointer midway through to give the Tigers a 27-13 lead.

By the time the quarter ended, Archer had a 31-20 lead.

However, the second half was a different story as Cherokee held Archer to two third-quarter points, scoring 13 points of their own to tie the game.

A layup by Jeremiah Gill and 3-pointer by Zack Kvam completed the comeback in the third quarter, tying the game at 33.

"We let up a little in the second half and let them back in the game," Watkins said.

The fourth quarter saw a back-and-forth affair.

Cherokee (18-11) took its first lead of the game on a 3-pointer by Armony Parker.

The Tigers were able to retake the lead on a 3-pointer by Randall Smith before Cherokee tied it on a three-point play by Gill.

Kelvin Nwanze's layup on a dish from Smith put the Tigers back up by two, but Gill answered again with a layup of his own with 19 seconds to go in the game.

Then, just like every coach wants, the ball was in the hands of his point guard as time ran down. This time, instead of hitting a shot from the field, Smith was fouled and hit two free throws to take a two-point lead with 4.7 seconds to go.

With two fouls to give, Archer fouled Cherokee twice to take 2.7 seconds off the clock, forcing the Warriors into a desperate heave from 3-point range that fell short.

The Tigers, who play at Norcross on Saturday, were led by Hamlet with 17 points, while Overby had 12.

After only holding a 20-15 lead at halftime, the Archer girls came out and dominated in the third quarter for a 53-19 win over Etowah.

A jumper by Morgan Jackson and a 3-pointer by Madison Newby stretched Archer's lead to 33-17 with 2:02 left in the quarter. Then, Newby hit a layup and the ensuing free throw after she was fouled, putting the Tigers up 36-17.

"We did well doing what we're supposed to do defensively," Archer head coach Ryan Lesniak said. "We had good rotation on defense and closed the holes."

By the end of the quarter, Archer had a 38-17 lead. But, they weren't done.

The fourth quarter saw the defensive intensity continue as Archer held Etowah to two points again, while scoring 15.

In fact, Archer kept Etowah from scoring for more than seven minutes between the third and fourth quarters, as the Eagles couldn't buy a basket.

"We forced them to have to try and shoot their way back into the game," Lesniak said.

Newby led all scorers with 17 points, while Jackson and Kayla Rogers had 10 points apiece.

The Tigers get North Gwinnett in the second round.