The Lanierland boys semifinal matchup between Gainesville and Lakeview Academy Friday night was a tightly contested battle of wills from start to finish. But when it mattered most, no one could stop Rafael Rubel.
The Gainesville guard scored the last 10 points of the game for the Red Elephants, including the game winner that came with five seconds left on the clock to seal Gainesville’s 60-59 win.
“He’s a tremendous one-on-one player, and he’s a playmaker — not just a scorer,” Gainesville coach Chuck Graham said. “I think that last four minutes of the fourth quarter, he really took it upon himself to start attacking the basket, and it worked in our favor.”
Rubel started his run with four minutes left to play with a bucket that put the Red Elephants (6-6) up by six. A quick 4-0 run from the Lions (8-5) brought them within two before Rubel scored again off a pass from Brent Kelly to keep Lakeview Academy at bay.
The Lions had no difficulty scoring to stay in the game, but each Lakeview Academy basket was met with an answer from Rubel. The Lions finally took a one-point lead after guard Blake McIntyre hit on a pair of free throws and then stole the ensuing Gainesville in-bound before getting fouled and making another two shots from the charity stripe with 23 seconds to play.
But McIntyre left too much time on the clock for Rubel to work with, as he drove straight to the basket and banked a shot off the backboard to the delight of the Gainesville student section, which stormed the court seconds later when the final buzzer went off.
With the victory, the Red Elephants will move on to the championship game against East Hall on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. The contest will be a rematch of last year’s Lanierland final.
“It’s huge for our guys,” Graham said of the chance to play in a Lanierland championship game. “Those guys in there, they want to submit their own legacy, and we’re always telling the seniors, ‘What are you going to leave for that next group? … These guys have been working hard. I’m happy for them in the aspect of we’re in the finals. Now let’s continue to play.”
The teams stayed close throughout the contest, and the opening quarter was largely a defensive battle. Gainesville held the Lions to just three points through the first half of the eight-minute period, while scoring just six themselves. Adam Cottrell started Lakeview Academy’s scoring with a three-point play and hit a 3-pointer late in the opening frame that tied the game at 10-10.
The back-and-forth nature of the contest continued through the rest of the first half. The teams exchanged baskets on six straight possessions near the opening of the second quarter before McIntyre spun in an acrobatic layup while absorbing contact and falling to the ground. He completed the 3-point play to briefly give Lakeview Academy a lead, but a pair of Kelly steals and dishes — one to Walt Dixon and one to Datavian Buffington — put Gainesville back on top heading into halftime.
In the third quarter, the Lions got six points a piece from Cottrell and McIntyre and battled back to take a one-point advantage going into the final frame.
But Rubel took over from there.
He scored 12 of his 23 points over the last eight minutes of the game, powering the Red Elephants to the win.
Gainesville advances to take on an East Hall team that it beat in last year’s finals, although both squads have undergone major changes — including at the head coach position.
“We still have a long way to go,” Graham said. “We’ve got a short rest, then we’ve got to get ready for an East Hall team that will be super athletic, well coached. We’ve got our work cut out for us tomorrow.”
EAST HALL BOYS 73, NORTH HALL 42: The East Hall boys dominated the second half on both ends of the floor, beating North Hall in the Lanierland semifinals Friday at West Hall.
With the win, the Vikings (9-6) will face Gainesville in the tournament final, a rematch of the 2017 championship
“We’re hype,” East Hall senior Jayvion Rucker said. “We can’t wait. I’m going to go home, watch the game today. Rest. Get ready for tomorrow. Come walk through, and just have a good time.”
Rucker paved the way for East Hall’s big win, scoring seven of his 14 points to finish off a 21-0 Vikings run in the third quarter that put the game permanently out of reach. North Hall’s (5-10) Josh Cook put in 13 to lead the Trojans.
To start the game, it appeared East Hall would quickly run away with things. After Rucker won the opening tip for the Vikings, it only took East Hall guard Kylan Curry five seconds to drive straight to the hoop and put in the first points of the game. A pair of baskets from Rucker followed by a steal and dish to Curry for an easy layup in transition kept things rolling for East Hall.
“Kylan and Jay, they’re on a different level right now,” East Hall coach Seth Thompson said.
Three-pointers from Mon Prather and Imre Earls extended the Viking lead to 11 points just five minutes into the game.
But a 6-0 North Hall run to end the opening quarter — set off by four straight made free throws from Cook, got the deficit to a manageable five points with three quarters left to play.
Cook kept up his strong play in the second quarter, scoring six points and moving to a perfect 6 for 6 from the free throw line. Meanwhile, foul trouble forced Rucker to sit most of the period as the teams battled back and forth. Neither side managed more than two unanswered buckets, and East Hall could not extend its lead past five points before the halftime break.
Rucker got back off the bench to start the third quarter to help salt the game away early for East Hall. Halfway through the frame, he grabbed a steal and passed out to Clete Cooper in the corner, who buried a trey. Then, Rucker went on a 7-0 run of his own that put his team up 26 with less than a minute to go until the final period.
Rucker finished things off early in the fourth, taking a pass from Curry under the rim and rising up for a dunk that extended the Viking lead to 29.
“When I was on the bench, I was like I need to go out there and help my team,” Rucker said. “When I got to go out there, they told me to do my best as I can and stay out of foul trouble. I was just glad to be able to help my team and pull out the win.”
In just his first year as head coach of the program, Thompson will have a shot to earn East Hall a Lanierland title.
“This is important for the school and important for our community,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ve got a shot tomorrow. It’s going to be a great game.”