Free throws were almost the Achilles heel for the Gainesville High boys basketball team Tuesday night as it nearly gave up an 11-point, fourth-quarter lead in a 48-43 win over St. Pius X at home.
The Red Elephants (3-0) were 5 of 12 at the line and outscored 17-13 in the final period of play.
“We have to make our free throws,” coach Benjie Wood said. “We missed four or five in a row where we could have iced the game.”
Junior forward Bailey Minor said as the lead started dwindling for the Red Elephants, the message during timeouts was to stay calm.
“Just to stay solid on defense and run our offense and let it come naturally,” Minor said. “Don’t force anything and lock them down on defense.”
Wood said he was proud of his players’ efforts, “particularly on the defensive end.”
Gainesville had its highest scoring quarter in the third, sparked by a big alley-oop from Michael White to Jarred Rosser.
Rosser flushed the one-handed slam and sent Gainesville’s fans into a storm of yells and cheers.
From there, the Red Elephants went on to put up another 10 points in the quarter.
Minor scored the first nine points of the game, knocking down a pair of free throws, a 3-pointer and two inside shots. He had 11 of Gainesville’s 21 at the half.
St. Pius X’s leading scorer at the break, Everett Lane, had seven. He finished with a team-high 12. Matthew Gonzalo was the only other player in double digits for the Golden Lions with 10.
The game got off to an ominous start for Gainesville as big man KJ Buffen was knocked from the game on the initial tip off.
Buffen won the tip for the Red Elephants, slapping the ball away to Kelly, before hitting the ground. The senior had to be helped off the court with an ankle injury. He later returned to the bench in a jacket with a soft cast on his leg.
Buffen marks the third injury for Gainesville as Rosser’s twin brother Jarrel and Kajuan Hale were both already out. Jarrel also with an ankle injury.
“When you already have two key contributors out, then he goes down, it definitely depletes your depth,” Wood said.
“KJ is a huge part of what we do,” Minor said. “He’s one part of many injuries we’ve had lately. ... We were down three of our best players, so I’m proud we were able to find a way to get the win.”
Minor led all scorers with 18. He also had five rebounds for the Red Elephants.
Minor said his size was a big factor in his performance on Tuesday.
“I was a lot bigger than them, so I just took them to the post,” he said. “That opened up an outside shot for me early and I was able to knock it down.”
Rosser had 11 points for Gainesville. Rosser, Brent Kelly and Ross Tipton all finished with six rebounds apiece. Kelly added a game-high four steals.
“I thought Jarred did a really good job tonight,” Wood said. “He’s still trying to learn what we’re doing and how we’re accustomed to doing things, but he did a good job of stepping up when we needed him tonight.”
Minor said the Red Elephants needed to continue to work on their free throws after their 11 of 21 performance Tuesday.
He added that they need to “get a little better at executing our offense, but otherwise I think we’re doing pretty good right now.”
Gainesville will put its unbeaten record on the line as it hosts Milton High on Friday. The boys will play immediately after the girls game, which tips at 7 p.m.
GAINESVILLE GIRLS 58, ST. PIUS X 50: Taylor Hawks was a force for the Lady Red Elephants (1-1) on Tuesday, scoring 24 points to lead all scorers.
Hawks added four steals and four rebounds to her big offensive night.
Gainesville led 34-28 at the break, but pushed that lead to 47-36 by the start of the fourth quarter.
The Lady Golden Lions scored the first six points of the fourth quarter, all of them coming from Macey Carson (15 points, six rebounds), as they cut the lead to five.
Tia Shelton pitched in seven of her nine points in the final period to help keep Gainesville in the lead. Shelton’s seven and Hawks’ four made up the 11 points in the fourth for the Lady Red Elephants.
Tija Blackwell chipped in 14 points for Gainesville.
Kathryn McKenzie was four points and one rebound shy of a double-double entering the fourth quarter for St. Pius X. She came up three points short with seven points and 10 boards.
Next up, the Lady Red Elephants will host Milton High at 7 p.m. on Friday.