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Photos: Gainesville boys fall to Tucker in Class 6A basketball quarterfinal round
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Gainesville's Brent Kelly dribbles towards the basket past Tucker's Nick Watson at Tucker High School during the state quarterfinals on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. - photo by Austin Steele

The Gainesville boys basketball team took Tucker all the way down to the wire in Wednesday night’s state quarterfinal matchup between the teams. But errant fourth quarter free throw shooting doomed the Red Elephants, as the Tigers claimed a 65-58 win.

With the loss, Gainesville’s season comes to a close at a 20-9 mark.

“This season was just a new chapter in Gainesville basketball,” Red Elephants coach Chuck Graham said. “... Only one team wins it every year, so when you take that into consideration, I think we had a great season. We’ve got to take this and learn from it.”

Gainesville led by as many as six points in the fourth quarter, and held a one-point advantage with under two minutes left in the game, but inaccuracy from the charity stripe proved to be the thorn in the team’s side as it tried to close out the game.

Red Elephant shooters hit on only 2 of 10 free throw attempts in the final frame, missing their last five attempts over the last two minutes of the game. Tucker’s Raylan Barrion hit a go-ahead basket with 1:57 left to play, giving the Tigers a 59-58 lead.

Gainesville’s Walt Dixon had a chance to reclaim the lead at the free throw line one possession later, but missed both attempts. Julio Santana grabbed an offensive rebound off of Dixon’s second miss and was immediately fouled, but Santana missed both of his shots as well.

“It always rears its ugly head,” Graham said of his team’s free throw shooting woes. “It’s one of those things where I see those guys shoot the lights out in practice. But practice to an actual game setting, you’ve got to be ready to step up and knock them down.”

The Red Elephants very nearly took the win despite their issues at the line.

Senior Maurice Hector hit four 3-pointers in the first half to get things going offensively. Rafael Rubel scored four points in an 8-3 Gainesville run to start the second half that gave the Red Elephants a three-point lead midway through the third quarter.

Gainesville seemed poised to run away with the game before Tigers forward Montae Hall started getting into rhythm. Hall scored the last 12 Tucker points of the third period, and went on a personal 6-0 streak to start the fourth to tie the game up.

Red Elephants guard Datavian Buffington scored three straight to go back on top, but Barrion made a couple of free throws and then hit his lead-taking shot that put Tucker in front for good.

The loss brings the careers of an accomplished Gainesville senior class to a close. Members of the team who have been around since they were freshman finish with 93 total wins, three Lanierland titles and a trip to a state championship game last season on their resume’s.

But according to Hector, their time at Gainesville is defined by more than wins and accolades.

“I feel like I’ve got a place I can go anytime I need something,” Hector said. “It’s bigger than basketball. We care about each other. We’ve got each other’s backs. It’s bigger than basketball.”

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