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High school basketball: Gainesville boys eyeing run past state quarterfinals
Red Elephants face Lakeside-Evans in the third round on Tuesday
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Gainesville guard Kajuan Hale (3) jumps with the ball during the final game of the 58th annual Lanierland Tournament between Gainesville and East Hall in Flowery Branch, on Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017. - photo by David Barnes

This week, it’s all about getting over the hump for the Gainesville boys basketball program. For all it’s success, the third round is as far as the current crop of Red Elephants (22-6) seniors have seen in their high school career.

That can all change this week as Gainesville — riding a 19-game winning streak since the start of Lanierland — hosts Lakeside-Evans in the third round of the Class 6A playoffs Tuesday. Tip-off is set for 6:30 p.m.

“We’re all excited about this opportunity,” Gainesville coach Benjie Wood said. “Right now, I feel like our guys are pretty calm.”

A No. 4 seed, Lakeside-Evans (15-12) made it to this point in the postseason, starting with a 65-63 upset of top-seeded Stephenson on Feb. 17. The Panthers beat Richmond Hill, 65-58, in the second round Feb. 22.

In 2018, the playoff road has been fairly smooth for the Red Elephants, locking up a 36-point first-round victory against Pope on Feb. 17, then a 25-point win in the second round against 

Alexander on Feb. 21.

However, it’s hard not to take a glimpse at the other side of the playoff bracket where defending state champion Langston Hughes (24-5) is still standing. The Red Elephants were bounced from the playoffs in 2017 by the Panthers with a heart-breaking 72-69 overtime loss. Wood chalked that loss up to a ‘couple of missed defensive assignments late in the game’, even after twice rallying from a nine-point deficit in the game at Gainesville. 

Against Langston Hughes last year, Wood said Gainesville shot just 4 of 24 from 3-point range, and was less than 40 percent shooting from the field. 

Kajuan Hale’s last-ditch 3-point attempt with the game tied fell short at the end of regulation, sending the game to overtime. 

“I think we want the chance them (Langston Hughes) again,” Red Elephants senior guard Austin Long said. 

If Gainesville were to face Langston Hughes, it wouldn’t be until the state championship game, which would take place in Fairburn. 

The Red Elephants roster looks almost identical with much the same talent still on the floor as 2017, including Hale (10 points per game), KJ Buffen (16 points, 7 rebounds), Jarred Rosser (11 ppg.) and Jarrel Rosser (8 ppg.) and Bailey Minor (8 ppg.) all adding to the depth of Wood’s squad that can run in fresh legs at any point in the game to give his starters a breather. 

And despite the relatively easy path in the current playoff run, Gainesville’s group has more games to pull from to serve as motivation during this senior-heavy groups final playoff run. Two years ago, Gainesville lost 87-84 in the second round against eventual state semifinalist McIntosh, after a late basket and foul put the Chiefs at the free throw line after an erroneously-extended time run-off to only 1.1 seconds remaining. 

In 2015, Gainesville lost to Jones County in the second round 65-64.

To prepare for this postseason run, Wood has constantly drilled into his players how important each possession is, especially late in the game. 

The Red Elephants expect more tightly-contested games in the two weeks to come.

State quarterfinals

Tuesday’s games

Class 6A

Gainesville boys vs. Lakeside-Evans, 6:30 p.m.

Class 5A

Flowery Branch girls vs. Dutchtown, 6 p.m.

Buford girls vs. Eagles Landing, 6 p.m.

Tickets are $7 per GHSA rules

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