The first time the Gainesville boys basketball team took on Lanier earlier this season, the Red Elephants let a close game slip away in overtime. In the rematch Friday night, Gainesville made sure not to let it get that far.
The Red Elephants dominated the first quarter — outscoring the visiting Longhorns 17-4 — and never looked back, notching a 66-48 win to close out the regular season.
“I believe the key in the game was our guys came out with a little intensity,” Gainesville coach Chuck Graham said. “We played with a chip on our shoulder. It wasn’t so much about who we were playing against. We knew what was at stake. I just felt like our guys played with a different level of intensity.”
The victory gives the Red Elephants (17-8, 9-1 Region 8-6A) a shot at the No. 1 seed in the Region 8-6A tournament. A coin toss will decide whether Gainesville or Lanier will take the top spot.
Rafael Rubel led the way for the Red Elephants, scoring 17 points — 11 coming in the fourth quarter — and grabbing six steals. Maurice Hector added 16, including a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to end the third quarter that extended Gainesville’s lead to 20 going into the final frame.
The Red Elephants put the game away early, leading by 13 after one quarter and by 16 at the half. Although Lanier brought a 10-game winning streak into Friday night, Gainesville held the Longhorns to 15 points in the first half.
Hector said consistent ball pressure was the biggest key to the dominant defensive performance.
“We know whenever we speed them up, that’s our best chance to have them make turnovers and get them out of their comfort zone,” he said. “We just sped them up, and the rest fell into place.”
Gainesville kept up the heat in the third quarter, with Hector scoring eight of his 16 points right out of the half. He hit one trey early, then grabbed a rebound and put it back up near the midway point of the period to halt a 6-0 Lanier run.
The Longhorns went on a 15-1 run in the middle of the last frame that forced Graham to take a time out and made brought the visiting team to within 13 points of the lead. But a 10-2 responding run from the Red Elephants put to bed any hopes of a Lanier comeback bid.
With the regular season now in the books, Graham said the team’s full focus shifts to next week’s region tournament.
“I love going in with momentum, but when you’re dealing with high school kids, that momentum can change and it can really flip and go sideways on you,” he said. “We just need to go do exactly what we’ve been doing: get in and work. That’s been our recipe all season. We’ll get in and continue to work and continue to make each other better.”
LANIER GIRL 73, GAINESVILLE 50: Taji Blackwell scored 24 points to lead Gainesville, but it was to no avail, as the visiting Lady Longhorns simply overpowered the Lady Red Elephants (11-12, 3-7 Region 8-6A), outscoring them 24-9 in the fourth quarter to finish the regular season undefeated in region play.
“My kids didn’t quit is what I’m proud of,” Gainesville coach Alan Griffin said after the game. “Lanier’s really good. So are we. We’ve got some improvements to make, but I’m excited to go into the region tournament with this team.”
Gainesville played close with Lanier for much of the first half.
The Lady Longhorns appeared set to take a commanding lead after a 14-1 run in the middle of the opening frame, but a pair of 3-pointers from Blackwell to end the period got Gainesville back within two points.
The Lady Red Elephants tied the game up halfway through the second frame, but things got away from them after that. Lanier went up by seven going into halftime, and then scored the first eight points of the third quarter.
The Lady Longhorns kept pouring it on throughout the half, stretching their lead with a pair of 10-2 runs late.
Despite the lopsided final score, Griffin said the close opening half gave him some optimism as his team prepares for the region tournament and potentially another meeting with Lanier.
“The biggest thing is what we’ve been preaching all year, and that’s positivity: believing in yourself, believing in your teammates, believing that we’re absolutely good enough to make a run to the region championship,” he said. “That’s what our goal is, and we’re going to work as hard as we can to get to it.”