6A Boys: Hughes 85, Gainesville 78

Langston Hughes successfully defended last season's 6A state boys title.

ATLANTA — Virginia Tech signee Landers Nolley dominated with a game-high 34 points as Langston Hughes rallied past Gainesville 85-78 for the program’s second-consecutive Class AAAAAA state crown.

Gainesville began building its lead early, but Hughes used an 11-4 run to close the opening quarter tied 21-21. The trend continued in the second quarter as Gainesville’s bench really got going. The Red Elephants extended their lead to as much as 14 points before Hughes was able to cut it down to just seven points in the final 2:05 of the half. Gainesville’s bench ended up outscoring Hughes 36-8 in the game, and 27 of those 36 points came in the first half.

“They are a deep squad,” said Hughes head coach Rory Welsh. “We knew that they would go eight or nine deep and that those guys can all get hot on any given night. It’s just about weathering the storm. The game of basketball is a game of runs.”

Gainesville’s full-court press sparked its flood of second-quarter points, but Hughes went into attack mode in the third and fourth quarters. The aggressive approach proved to be the antidote to Gainesville’s pressure, and then Nolley got going.

“We knew we had to attack the press,” said Welsh. “We aren’t going to walk it up to break the press. We had to attack it and if they want to make it an up-and-down game, then we are going to play that game with them.”

Nolley went 12-of-12 from the foul line in the second half and scored 13 points on 3-of-4 shooting in the third quarter. Teammate Tyler Smith also heated up, netting 14 of his 17 points in the second half and finishing 8-of-10 from the field.

“Tyler Smith is the most underrated unsigned senior in the state of Georgia,” assured Welsh after the victory. “Everyone wants to make him something he’s not. He’s not a wing shooter, he’s not a perimeter-oriented guy. He’s a slasher, a rebounder and a finisher. He’s tough as nails and pound-for-pound one of the most athletic guys in the state, and he helped quarterback us to victory tonight.”

Hughes extended its lead to 11 points with 1:47 left, but Gainesville was able to cut it to a one-possession game before the Panthers closed it out at the foul line.

“We knew that if we kept the game close, we would have a chance,” said Welsh. “We saw Gainesville, the best team in the state, hands down. But they haven’t played a ton of close games this year. We figured we would keep it in striking distance and play our best basketball in the second half and if we did that, we would have a chance to win the game.”

Gainesville’s Bailey Minor (17 points), Kajuan Hale (15), K.J. Buffen (13) and Rafael Rubel (12) all scored in double-figures.

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