The Lambert boys basketball team likes to run, but South Forsyth's plan in the Region 5-7A boys semifinals on Wednesday night didn't just prevent the Longhorns from doing that: The War Eagles tried to stop Lambert from moving at all.
Santhosh Saravanan and Isaiah Magee, South's two main point guards, would take the ball near the top of the arc and stall, sometimes well past when even the longest shot clock would have expired. They'd eventually see an opening to attack, where they'd take it to the rack themselves or kick to a post player like Devin McGlockton.
This strategy worked pretty well for the game's first two quarters. South ended the first quarter leading 15-14, and after a truly glacial second quarter, the War Eagles were up 21-20. Lambert ran its offense, but not at the frequency the Longhorns needed.
"We didn't get enough of the shots that I wanted (to get)," Lambert junior guard Mitch Ganote said.
To start the second half, though, the Longhorns went to what they do best: Pressure and speed. With Ganote adding individual tempo, they gained a 33-30 lead by the end of the third quarter, and after one particularly spirited defensive push in the fourth quarter, Lambert led by as much as 16. The Longhorns kept the lead and won 56-44, setting up a region final matchup with West Forsyth.
"We came out in the second half and sped up the pace a little bit, and it worked to our advantage," Lambert head coach Scott Bracco said.
Lambert started the third quarter with two free throws from Damon Stoudamire and a three from Austin Deckard, and then Deckard got a steal when the Longhorns brought the full-court press. Stoudamire made two more free throws on Lambert's next possession, and the Longhorns forced a jump ball after the inbounds. After another forced turnover, Jordan McIlwain hit a three-pointer, and after a Ganote steal, Deckard hit a trey.
That established the 46-30 margin and brought Lambert's energy level to its highest of the game.
It also set a benchmark the Longhorns will try to meet on Friday against West. Both of those games saw the Wolverines willing to match the Longhorns' pace and high-volume approach on offense, and West prevailed both times, 80-77 on Jan. 5 and 85-81 on Jan. 23.
"Defense, for sure," Ganote said when asked for the key to the matchup. "Our defense was sloppy the first two times we played them, so step that up and I think we'll come home with the championship."
Ganote led Lambert (20-5) with 14 points, and Stoudamire and Deckard each had 12. Magee scored 14 to lead South (10-17), and Saravanan had 14.