Even while missing two key players, the Gainesville High boys basketball team left little doubt about which squad is the Region 8-AAAAAA favorite.
The No. 2 Red Elephants crushed Dacula — with which they had shared an unbeaten mark in region play — 79-53 on Friday night at home. Gainesville (18-1, 5-0 in 8-AAAAAA) played without senior center Ross Tipton and junior forward Bailey Minor, the latter of whom was named the Lanierland tournament MVP last month.
“I thought the kids did a great job,” Red Elephants coach Benjie Wood said of his shorthanded team. “They kept their energy levels high and really played really hard, so I’m proud of our team.”
Wood said the Falcons (14-6, 4-1 region) had a few players dealing with illness, so they weren’t quite at full strength either. Yet Gainesville beat a region foe by at least 26 points for the fifth time in as many games despite its lone center and versatile stretch forward sitting out.
The Red Elephants did have junior forward KJ Buffen, who returned last week from a broken foot sustained early in the season. Buffen finished with 17 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks, an eye-popping stat line to everyone except his coach.
“That doesn’t surprise me,” Wood said.
Junior forward Jarred Rosser produced a game-high 23 points and five rebounds, while his twin brother Jarrel racked up 14 points and as many boards.
Gainesville scored the first seven points of the night, but sophomore guard Mekhail Bethea kept Dacula in striking distance by scoring his team’s first eight points. Dacula pulled within 23-16 in the second quarter when senior guard Justin Goodson sank a pair of free throws after getting fouled on a 3-point attempt.
That’s when the Red Elephants began wreaking havoc with their size and athleticism, turning a tightly contested game into a blowout before halftime.
Buffen got the home fans on their feet with a thunderous dunk that put his team up by double digits for good, and Gainesville forced eight second-quarter turnovers to spark an 18-6 run.
“I thought it was really important for us to come out and make sure we established our tempo and establish our energy levels early,” Wood said. “I thought the kids did a great job of that.”
Buffen set up Jarrel Rosser for a dunk of his own on the first possession of the third quarter before the Falcons scored six straight points. Minutes later, Jarrel Rosser responded to Goodson’s three-point play with one of his own, cutting off the Falcons’ desperate rally.
Buffen picked up his 10th rebound on a putback dunk to extend the Red Elephants’ lead to 57-38 in the final minute of the third quarter.
“KJ is a good player, and he does so many things well,” Wood said. “It’s nice to have him back.”
Dacula made only two field goals in the fourth quarter, during which they attempted mostly rushed 3-pointers to make up for the swelling deficit. Bethea led the Falcons with 21 points, while Goodson pitched in 13.
Gainesville has the inside track on the regular-season region title with just two weeks to play, though it visits Dacula for a Jan. 28 rematch. Even if both teams would have been at full capacity Friday night, Wood won’t put too much stock in the result.
“We may go over there, and they beat us like this,” the coach said. “It’s just one game. How many times in the NBA Finals have you seen a team win by 20, and then the next game they get beat by 20? And those are pros, while these are 16-year-old kids.”
GAINESVILLE GIRLS 48, DACULA 35: Much like the boys team, the Lady Red Elephants easily dispatched their Region 8-AAAAAA foe despite missing a key contributor.
Though Lady Red Elephants coach Brenda Hill-Gilmore was sidelined with an illness, junior guard Tija Blackwell led all scorers with 14 points as Gainesville (12-5, 4-1 region) cruised past the turnover-prone Lady Falcons (9-11, 3-2 region). Gainesville assistant coach Brad Prestridge filled in for Hill-Gilmore.
Dacula scored the first five points of the game before the Lady Elephants grabbed control.
Gainesville led by 16 points at halftime as the result of a 29-8 extended run, during which Blackwell connected on 4 of 5 3-pointers. The Lady Falcons got no closer than the final 13-point margin, and senior Kandy Brown led the team in scoring with eight points and five blocked shots.
Senior guard Taylor Hawks provided 12 points for the Lady Red Elephants, who travel to Dacula for a rematch on Jan. 28.