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Gainesville boys cruise past Flowery Branch
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Flowery Branch’s Nick Wayne, right, swats the ball away from Gainesville High’s Shaquan Cantrell as he goes up for a shot during the first half of their game at the Gainesville High gymnasium Friday night. - photo by Scott Rogers | The Times

The Gainesville boys basketball team has seemingly caught up to rest of their opponents despite missing several key players during the early stages of the season due to the Red Elephants’ state championship run in football.

With the entire roster back, their minds off the gridiron and now focused on the court, Gainesville (13-9, 7-6 Region 8-AAAAA) has bounced back in recent weeks. They continued with that trend by defeating Flowery Branch 75-54 on Friday at home.

With the win, the Red Elephants have won eight of their last nine games and five in a row. They’re back over .500 both overall and in region play, and enter the last week of the regular season looking to make things interesting in Region 8-AAAAA.

“We got a late start, and it was great, because our [football] team won a state championship,” Gainesville coach Todd Cottrell said. “We’re still further behind than where we should be this time of year, but hopefully we’ll keep improving and then have a chance to do something in the region tournament.”

The Red Elephants hardly looked like a team behind schedule, outscoring Flowery Branch (6-15, 4-10) 36-24 in the second half, including a 15-6 advantage in the third quarter. The dominant final two periods was enough to keep the Falcons from erasing a seven-point halftime deficit and curbing Gainesville’s recent success.

The end result was a game that boldly demonstrated the depth the Red Elephants’ have with a fully-loaded roster, and how many different threats they have on a quarter-to-quarter basis.

In the first half, Flowery Branch focused defensively on Gainesville leading scorer Shaquan Cantrell, holding him completely scoreless through two quarters. The extra protection on Cantrell opened up shots for teammate Deshaun Watson, who scored 15 points in the first half and helped the Red Elephants lead 16-14 after one quarter and 37-30 at the half.

Watson finished the game with a team-high 20 points, including five 3-points, but was limited offensively late in the game. As a result, Cantrell got more looks at the basket and scored all 18 of his points in the second half, including 10 in Gainesville’s dominant third quarter.

“He came out and hit a couple of 3s to start the third quarter, then he got some good looks,” Cottrell said. “He wasn’t getting those kind of looks in the first half.”

The Red Elephants finished the game with 10 3-pointers from five different players. Luke Moore used a pair of long-range shots to reach double figures with 10.

“We’re shooting the ball really well right now,” Cottrell said. “I hope it continues.”

Flowery Branch, which has lost five of its last six, led briefly in the first quarter after a basket and ensuing and-one free-throw to give the Falcons an 11-10 lead. They would maintain a double-digit deficit for the majority of the first half, but couldn’t keep up with Gainesville after a rough third quarter.

Flowery Branch was without starter Jaleel Bailey for most of the game after he picked up four fouls in the first quarter. He did not re-enter the game until the fourth.

“I just told our guys that the game is pretty simple sometimes: They made their shots and we didn’t,” Flowery Branch coach Duke Mullis said. “They’re a very tough team to defend, and on the other end, I thought we were very stagnant on offense. We didn’t have a very balanced attack at all.”

Stephens was the game’s leading scorer with 24 points, 10 of which came from the free-throw line. Nick Wayne added 11 points and scored seven in the first quarter.

Gainesville visits Loganville at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. Flowery Branch is back on the road against East Hall at 5:30 p.m today.

FLOWERY BRANCH GIRLS 72, GAINESVILLE 56: Jacy Ramey and Tavia Sykes each scored 21 points as the Lady Falcons won their 10th straight game Friday.

Marissa Ivey added 10 points for Flowery Branch (21-1, 14-0 Region 8-AAAAA), which outscored Gainesville 28-16 to close out the game after the Lady Red Elephants used an 11-0 run in the third quarter to decrease their deficit to 44-40.

Flowery Branch visits East Hall at 4 p.m. today. Gainesville visits Loganville at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

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