By Steven Watkins
For the Forsyth County News
When Lambert’s Damon Stoudamire dunked on a fast break for the second time in as many minutes late in the final quarter of Saturday night’s state playoff matchup with Mill Creek, any remaining doubts as to the eventual outcome were drowned out by the roaring approval from the Longhorn supporters in attendance.
Lambert kicked off the first round of the Class 7A state playoffs with a 85-61 route of visiting Mill Creek.
Stoudamire’s second of three dunks in the fourth quarter was made possible by a steal and likely-unnecessary pass from point guard Mitch Ganote, who fed the ball to his teammate inside of the paint although no Mill Creek players were in position to make a play.
“I figured the crowd would like to see a dunk, rather than my layup,” said a grinning Ganote, who also finished with a triple-double and a game-leading 24 points.
Ganote led an offensive effort by Lambert that used quick and effective ball-movement and the occasional pick-and-roll to climb to a 38-18 lead by the end of a dominant first half. Ganote caugh the Hawks’ defense off guard on numerous occasions throughout the first half, scoring and assisting on multiple fast breaks.
The Longhorn also prevented Mill Creek from settling into any offensive rhythm, constantly forcing them to settle for long field goals that missed more often than not.
“We really stepped up the defense,” Ganote said. “That was our main focus coming into the game. Defense won us the game”
Lambert’s impressive all-around defensive effort began to give slightly in the third quarter. The Hawks cut the Longhorns’ lead to as low as 14 points after a steal and three-pointer by Mill Creek’s Jack Kostel.
“We knew they were gonna come at us all the second half,” Bracco said. “We knew they were gonna make a run. We just needed to withstand the run that they were going to make.”
It was Ganote late in the third quarter who once again provided the momentum-shifting spark, sinking an acrobatic layup while drawing a foul and making his free throw. The rejuvenated Longhorns pulled away for the majority of the fourth quarter, tightening up once again on defense and going 11 of 14 on free throws.
“I feel like we did a great job in the first and fourth quarter on defense,” Bracco said. “I’m just extremely proud of the boys and the way they came out and competed all night.”
With just under three minutes to play, Stoudamire’s third dunk of the quarter put the exclamation point on the route, giving him his 12th point of the game and making him one of three Longhorns to finish with double digits in scoring, joining Ganote and Jordan Mcilwain who had 17.
Lambert advances to face the winner of South Gwinett at Meadowcreek in next week’s second round.