JOHNS CREEK — If there was one team Lambert didn’t want to face in its Region 6-AAAAAA tournament quarterfinal, it was Habersham Central.
Habersham had given the Longhorns fits twice this season, though Lambert won by 11 in Mt. Airy in early January and by three on Feb. 3. For what the Raiders lack in size, they make up for in three-point shooting and active man-to-man defense.
Bennett Black scored 27 in Habersham’s 73-70 loss at The Horn eight days ago, but Lambert didn’t let that happen again. Ross Morkem and Jake Morris combined for 30 of Lambert’s 47, the Horns clamped down defensively and survived a 10-turnover fourth quarter to knock off Habersham, 47-37, on Wednesday night.
Lambert advanced to play Centennial at 5:30 p.m. Friday in the region tournament semifinals; the two teams split the season series. The Horns clinched one of the region’s four state tournament spots with its win Tuesday.
“That was the team that scared me the most out of anybody we could’ve played in the first round,” Lambert coach Scott Bracco said. “They’ve had our number, and it’s hard to beat one team — I know they only won one region game — three times in a season.”
When sophomore point guard Andrew Melms fouled out with five minutes to play, Lambert, with guard Tanner Hall sidelined for the next three weeks due to mono (he’ll only return if Lambert makes the state Elite Eight), struggled to cope with ramped-up Habersham pressure.
The Raiders used several Lambert turnovers to mount a 7-0 run, cutting a 14-point deficit in half. After Black missed the front end of a one-and-one inside two minutes, though, the Horns finally broke a protracted drought. Caleb Kassa hit the first of two free throws and missed the second, but Ross Morkem rebounded, was fouled while shooting and hit both free throws.
Order restored — Lambert was back up by 10 with less than 90 seconds remaining, and a state playoff berth secured.
“We had some unfamiliar faces on the floor in crunch time, but they weathered the storm,” Bracco said. “This was a very good win for us.”
Lambert boys 47, Habersham Central 37
Habersham 8 9 6 14_37
Lambert 11 11 15 10_47
Habersham: Black 8; Kinsey 7; Herrin 5; Barnett 4; Pitts 4; Outlaw 3; Patterson 3; Babers 3.
Lambert: Morkem 20; Morris 10; Gatlin 8; Mannion 5; Kassa 4.