After starting the year 0-3, Gainesville head coach Todd Cottrell wasn’t sure how long it would take for his team to buy into his system. He now has his answer.
Behind a focused defensive effort that forced 23 turnovers and sparked a 17-0 run in the third quarter, the Red Elephants (2-3) turned a close game into a blowout with a 72-56 win over rival North Hall on Tuesday in Gainesville.
“I’m really pleased with our effort,” said Cottrell, who’s in his first year as coach at Gainesville. “I really like the way our guys played, especially in the third quarter.”
Coming out of halftime leading by just six points — thanks in large part to the outside shooting of North Hall (4-3) and Chris Cruz, who was 5-for-8 from beyond the arc in the first half and finished with a game-high 18 points — Gainesville picked up the intensity on defense, holding the Trojans without a field goal for the final six minutes of the quarter.
While North Hall was struggling to get anything going offensively, Gainesville was capitalizing on its defensive efforts to the tune of a 17-0 run to close out the third.
“That’s what we want,” Cottrell said of the team’s focus on defense. “I really like the way this team is progressing. If we continue to improve we’re going to be playing pretty well at the end of the season.”
From the looks of it Tuesday night, the Red Elephants are already playing pretty well.
Led by Juwon Jeffries and George Manomano’s 17 points each, Gainesville out rebounded North Hall 35-18 and had 15 steals to North Hall’s six.
The majority of those steals came in the second quarter when North Hall turned the ball over 10 times.
“The only reason we stayed close in the game in the first half is because we shot the ball well,” North Hall coach Benji Wood said. “Right now, we’re not a good ball handling basketball team and we have to do a much better job protecting the basketball. Until we do that, we’re not going to beat anybody.”
While Cottrell noticed an improvement from his team, Wood feels his Trojans have taken a step back since beating East Hall 98-84 in the first round of Lanierland.
“The worst thing to happen to this team was beating East Hall,” Wood said. “Our kids had their heads inflated a little bit and that was a nice reality check for us.
“We needed a little humble pie and I think we got it.”
What was a perfect night for Gainesville, which saw the girls team beat North Hall by 23 earlier, ended poorly.
With just 15.6 seconds left in the game, and as Red Elephants guard Blake Sims (11 points, four steals) was going up for a dunk, Gainesville’s student section tossed bouncy balls onto the court, resulting in a technical foul for the Red Elephants.
“Both student sections are fantastic,” Cottrell said of the incident. “Ours has been supportive of us the whole time, but the thing about throwing things on the floor is someone can get hurt.
“I really like our student section and their enthusiasm,” he added. “But we have to be smarter.”
Despite the way the game ended, Cottrell believes that the win will provide some energy as the Red Elephants head to the Wolverine Invitational in Woodstock on Dec. 27.
“We challenged our guys with some things and they responded well,” Cottrell said. “I’m looking forward to the challenges of the tournament.”
Gainesville girls 56, North Hall 33
Prior to the start of the game junior Jaymee Carnes was honored with a plaque commemorating her 1,000th point scored earlier this year. When the game started, she easily added to her already increasing point total.
Carnes scored a game-high 17 points and pulled down seven rebounds in just three quarters to lead the Lady Red Elephants (5-1) to a win over North Hall (3-4) on Tuesday.
But while Carnes was leading the way for the offense, it was the complete-team effort on defense that stole the show.
Led by Kiki Thompson’s five steals, the Lady Red Elephants held North Hall to single-digit points in all but the final quarter, including the second quarter when the Lady Trojans were held without a shot for the first four minutes.
“We’ve really been trying to pick up our defense,” Gainesville coach Manson Hill said. “We thought we played well at Lanierland, but we knew we could do better. We’re getting there.”
The defensive intensity not only limited the Lady Trojans’ shots, but it also forced them into 23 turnovers.
“Gainesville is probably the top team in our region,” North Hall coach Bryan Richerson said. “They’re experienced and we’re not. That’s the difference between them and us.”
Things don’t get any easier for North Hall, which boasts six freshmen on its roster. After the loss to Gainesville, the Lady Trojans play Class AAAAA’s Milton and the top team in Class AA, Buford in this weekend’s North Georgia Challenge Tournament at North Georgia College & State University.
“This is a learning experience,” Richerson said of the tough schedule his young team faces. “We’re trying to get better as a team and we have to remember we’re young. Our main focus is to play hard for 32 minutes and get better.”
Gainesville now turns its focus to South Carolina’s No. 1-ranked Lower Richland High, which it will play Friday in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
“This win gives us momentum,” Hill said. “But now we’re in a position where we have to defend an All-American (University of Miami recruit, Morgan Stroman), so we’ll see how that goes.”