It wasn’t always picture-perfect basketball, but for a Gainesville team still trying to find its footing after a slow start, it was a win. And it’s hard to find faults in a win, especially when it comes over a traditional rival.
With tenacity on defense and around the rim, the Red Elephants held off visiting East Hall for an 88-77 win on Saturday in Gainesville.
“It was ugly at times, but the kids played hard,” Gainesville coach Todd Cottrell said. “It was a quick turnaround for us coming off a big win last night (over Clarke Central) and we got a little sloppy, but we found a way to win in the end.”
The Vikings made them earn it. East Hall coach Joe Dix began swapping out five players at a time, offense for defense, and sending the Red Elephants to the foul line on every possession with more than three minutes left in the game. And though Gainesville was far from flawless from the line (26 of 43 for the game), the Red Elephants made just enough down the stretch to hold off a Viking team that similarly never found a rhythm from the free-throw line (15 of 25) or from the 3-point arc (8 of 26).
The loss snapped a three-game winning streak for East Hall (6-10, 3-4 Region 7-AAA).
“We have been playing well, but tonight Gainesville’s physical ability took over, especially in the second half,” Dix said. “They just outrebounded us and got a few transition baskets. Our kids fought, though.”
Gainesville (7-8, 2-6 8-AAAAA) led for the majority of the first half, but the game see-sawed back and forth after East Hall’s Hayden Chapman gave the Vikings their first lead with a 3-pointer late in the second quarter.
In the third quarter, the lead changed hands five times before Gainesville’s Shaquan Cantrell scored back-to-back buckets to spur an 8-0 run from which East Hall never recovered.
Cantrell led the Red Elephants with 25 points, and made 10 of his 12 free throws. Deshaun Watson and Luke Moore each scored 17 points, Caleb Hayman scored 13, and Tray Harrison scored all five of his points on 5-for-6 free-throw shooting down the stretch, helping keep the Vikings at arm’s length.
Cottrell said he was pleased with his team’s effort and its continued improvement nearly a month after finally gaining its full complement of players at the conclusion of football season.
“I think we’re getting better,” Cottrell said. “We’ve got a long way to go and a lot of catching up to do, and I hope we have time to get there. But I’m proud of them. We’re getting better every day, and hopefully by tournament time, we’ll be pretty good.”
The Red Elephants step back into region play with a trip to Apalachee on Friday.
For East Hall, Brian Edwards led the way with 22 points, and Antonio Maddox scored 17, each shooting 7 of 10 from the field. Daniel McCravy added 10 points, and Hayden Chapman added nine.
The Vikings are on the road again Tuesday, traveling to Banks County.
GAINESVILLE GIRLS 37, EAST HALL 29: Gainesville’s Tamia Rucker broke a scoreless tie with a breakaway layup a little more than three minutes into the game and the Lady Red Elephants never looked back, pulling away for the win in a game in which they never trailed.
Rucker led Gainesville (6-7, 2-4 Region 8-AAAAA), which held a 31-18 lead entering the fourth quarter, with nine points. Kabree Randolph, Shikiya Brown and Anna Walker each scored six.
Ashlyn Ellison led the Lady Vikings (6-9) with eight points.