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High school basketball: Gainesville struggles down the stretch in doubleheader loss to Habersham Central
Gainesville's Keke Jones (21) defends against Habersham Central on Jan. 28, 2023 in Gainesville. Photo by Bill Murphy

Friday proved to be a rough night for both Gainesville’s girls and boys during their Region 8-6A basketball doubleheader with Habersham Central at Alumni Gym.

The Lady Red Elephants nearly rallied from a 15-point deficit in the second half, only to have their attempt at a potential game-tying shot at the buzzer bounce off the back iron to allow the Lady Raiders to escape with a 48-46 victory.

Later in the evening, the Gainesville boys stayed close most of the evening, but struggled down the stretch in falling 57-50.

The Gainesville girls (17-2, 5-2) were already at a disadvantage coming into the game with senior forward Caloni Young sitting out her third consecutive came after suffering a knee injury in an MLK showcase game on Jan. 16.

However, it was a disastrous second quarter that proved to be the difference in Friday’s loss.

Kyia Barrett scored nine of her game-high 18 points and pulled down several of her team-leading 13 rebounds in the middle frame, and Habersham Central (14-6, 6-2) held the Lady Red Elephants scoreless in the frame until Zaria Williams finally connected in transition with seven seconds left in the half.

By that time the Lady Raiders had scored 14 points in the quarter to turn what had been a tied game into 26-14 lead by halftime.

“When you play against a quality team with a great coaching staff, the team that makes the (fewer) mistakes is usually the team that wins,” Gainesville girls coach Vanessa White said. “In the first half, we did build a hole that we just weren’t able to get out of.”

The Lady Red Elephants did try to climb out of that hole, which reached its peak when Barrett went coast to coast and got fouled for a three-point play to make the Lady Raiders’ lead 37-22 with 1:22 left in the third quarter.

Gainesville finally started to make some progress with a Shydrea Maddox free throw with 1:08 left in the frame and a three-point play from Keidra Young at the 37.6-seccond mark, but still came out of the third still down 37-26.

Still Keidra Young had finally started to assert herself in the third quarter with eight of her 14 points, and that confidence began to spread to her teammates in the final frame.

Julia Payne knocked down one of her four 3-pointers on the night 59 seconds into the fourth to spark a modest 13-7 run that pulled Gainesville to within five at 44-39 after Payne connected on a layup from a nifty assist from Zaria Williams with 3:50 remaining.

Still, the Lady Red Elephants trailed by nine at 48-39 inside of three minutes to play before they started to go to work on the defensive end, forcing Habersham Central into several of their 19 turnovers on the night.

On the other end of the floor, two buckets by Young, both on the offensive glass, plus another 3-pointer from Payne with 22 seconds remaining keyed a 7-0 run that suddenly pulled Gainesville to within 48-46.

And the Lady Red Elephants tone one more chance when Habersham Central missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 11.1 seconds left.

After a held ball in the front court that kept possession with Gainesville with four seconds left, plus a deflected ball out of bounds with three seconds left, Keidra Young got a decent look at the basket on the left wing despite being surrounded by defenders.

Her jumper from about 15 feet out was on target, but was just a bit strong and bounced off the back iron, allowing Habersham Central to hold on for the win.

Young had a game-high 14 rebounds and five steals to go with her 14 points, while Payne led Gainesville with 16 points and added five boards, and Williams also reached double figures with 13 points, and chipped in four assists and three steals.

The Gainesville boys (11-8, 4-3) had trouble with Habersham Central (13-7, 3-5) in the early going, particularly guard Brannon Gaines, who penetrated the lane seemingly at will in the first quarter on his way to 13 points and five assists on the night.

But after the Raiders took a 16-10 lead in the first quarter, it looked like the Red Elephants had righted the ship in the second quarter by outscoring Habersham Central 17-8, led by 10 points from Charlie Reisman, including a jumper with one second left in the half that sent them into intermission with a 27-24 lead.

However, Gainesville still had trouble on both ends of the court in the second half, a trend that carried over from its previous outing in a 50-37 loss at Shiloh a week earlier.

“We get a lot of our offense off of our defense,” Gainesville boys coach Chuck Graham said. “(Friday) night, we didn’t create many turnovers, and credit to (Habersham). We didn’t get any points off transition. We had to play against a halfcourt defense, and we didn’t shoot as well as we normally shoot it.

“The guys need to take a long look in the mirror and understand what we’re trying to do, and then go out and execute. Other teams are well coached (and) they do a good job, but this right here is mostly us. We’ve just got to figure it out.”

After falling behind 43-40 by the end of the third quarter still trailing 49-43 following two free throws by Josiah McCurry with 5:02 to play, the Red Elephants looked like they were starting to figure some things out.

Dre Raven drained a 3-pointer from the right corner, and then added a pair of free throws to cut Habersham Central’s lead to just 49-48 with 3:46 to play.

But Gainesville would managed just one more bucket on Ellis Pitts’ transition layup with 1:09 to play, while Habersham Central got a stickback by McCurry and a layup from Justus Gober, and then connected on 4 of 5 shots from the foul line in the final 2:42 to put the game away.

Cade Simmons came off the bench to score 11 points to lead Gainesville, while Reisman could not add to his second-quarter outburst and finished with his 10 points and four steals. Raven chipped in nine points.

McCurry led Habersham Central with 15 points and six rebounds.

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