The first month of the season was about as bumpy as possible for the Gainesville High boys basketball team.
On top of an already brutal early schedule, the Red Elephants experienced a few close losses and had to weather the suspension of several key players. Gainesville, ranked preseason No. 1 in Class 6A by several publications, lost its first four games as part of a 3-6 start.
But whatever issues plagued the Red Elephants seem to be well behind them now.
Gainesville looked the part of a state championship contender as it pulled away from Dacula for a 96-74 win Friday night in Gainesville in the Region 8-6A opener for both teams. It was the Red Elephants’ fifth straight win, following a dominant run to the Lanierland title and a double-digit victory against Class 5A’s top-ranked Warner Robins on Tuesday.
“We started out with a negative record, so we feel like region is a whole new season,” said senior forward KJ Buffen, a Middle Tennessee State signee. “ … I think a lot of us were worried about getting our own shot (early in the season). We had a meeting two days before Lanierland and talked it out.”
The results were evident Friday night.
Gainesville (8-6, 1-0 region) assisted on half of its 36 field goals, and four players recorded double-digit points. Buffen led the way with 23 points, followed by senior guard Xavier Bledson with 17 and senior forwards Jarrel and Jarred Rosser with 12 and 11, respectively.
Bledson and junior guard Brent Kelly (nine points) contributed in other facets of the game, picking up six rebounds and four assists apiece.
“Our biggest focus is always on ourselves and improving every game,” Red Elephants coach Benjie Wood said. “We want to be taking the game seriously and approaching it the right way. I think we did that tonight.”
It was more than enough to overcome 29 points from Brenden Tucker, the Falcons junior guard who has drawn interest from Division I programs. He sank five 3-pointers and scored 13 points in the second quarter, almost single-handedly keeping Dacula (7-6, 0-1) within 13 points at halftime despite Gainesville steadily taking control of the game.
“He was really quick, so that made him difficult to guard at times,” Buffen said.
Tucker and Bledson traded treys on four consecutive possessions late in the second quarter before Buffen banked in a shot at the buzzer. The Red Elephants, ranked No. 5 in Class 6A by Score Atlanta, went on to lead by as many as 25 points in the final period, during which they scored 30 points.
The Falcons’ other three leading scorers didn’t crack the double-digit mark until the fourth quarter. Senior guard Arusha Hunter registered 12 points, junior guard Mekhail Bethea had 11 and sophomore forward Quincy Ademokoya tacked on 10.
Gainesville, meanwhile, made all but two of its 16 free throws and collected 35 rebounds to Dacula’s 15.
“Everyone is stepping up right now,” Wood said. “Like I said at Lanierland, we’ve got a good problem of trying to give everybody playing time and trying to keep everyone fresh. … We’ve got good chemistry, and the kids like each other.”
That chemistry has fueled the recent turnaround for Gainesville, which continues region play when it visits Habersham Central at 7:30 p.m. today.
“We’ve got a really good feeling for each other right now,” Buffen said.
DACULA GIRLS 53, GAINESVILLE 37: Junior guard Tija Blackwell paced the Lady Red Elephants with 13 points in a loss to open Region 8-6A play.
Sophomore forward Kyra Buffen posted 11 points for Gainesville (5-7, 0-1 region), which also received eight points from freshman guard Sadie Roach. The Lady Red Elephants face region foe Habersham Central at 6 p.m. today in Mount Airy.
The Lady Falcons (7-7, 1-0) were led by junior Aiyana Hamilton’s 15 points. Alyssa Criscolo, a senior, tallied 12 points for Dacula.