DALTON — Forgive Gainesville coach Todd Cottrell for not knowing how to react after his team’s 58-46 win against Cedartown in the Class AAA state quarterfinals Saturday at the Northwest Georgia Trade Center in Dalton. It’s his first state quarterfinals victory and the first for the Red Elephants since 2002.
For Cottrell, the magnitude of the win came across clear as he emerged from Gainesville’s locker room with sweat covering his forehead and a big smile on his face.
“I’m just so happy for this team right now,” said Cottrell, whose team is two wins away from the school’s first state title since 1984. “We know we’re going to be playing on the final weekend of the season now and hopefully on the final day.”
With the win, Gainesville (21-8) faces Westover in the state semifinals at 5:30 p.m. Friday at the Macon Centreplex. Gainesville guard Blake Sims feels like they can bring a basketball state title back to Hall County for the first time since East Hall won a AA state title in 2005.
“Our team is the complete package,” Sims said. “We can match the style of any team we have to face.”
Gainesville senior guard George Manomano had the same kind of reaction as his coach, with a wide-eyed expression and a big smile. His 17 points, six rebounds and three steals were a big reason why the Red Elephants advanced past Cedartown (21-10) in the third round. Manomano was big for Gainesville early in the fourth quarter with two layups, helping push the lead to double digits with only five minutes remaining in the game.
The Red Elephants’ defense forced five straight turnovers in the first three minutes of the final quarter.
“Those turnovers were huge,” Manomano said. “We dug down deep in the fourth quarter and played well on defense.”
“Those turnovers really gave us all the momentum,” Sims added. “After that they started giving up.”
Sims finished with a game-high 19 points for the Red Elephants. Juwon Jeffries finished with eight for Gainesville.
Gainesville finished the game with a 41-35 rebounding advantage against Cedartown, with those spread mostly among five different players. Sophomore A.J. Johnson finished with eight rebounds, while Jeffries, Nick Johnson and Manomano all had six rebounds. Ke’Odric Sadler came off the bench and helped the Red Elephants with five boards.
With that rebounding edge, Gainesville led for all but one possession in the second half, when Bulldogs guard Brandon Brown hit a 3-pointer to make the score 27-26 with 6:44 left to play in the third quarter.
“I was pretty confident the entire game,” Cottrell added. “The game never goes exactly like you think it will, but we played from ahead for most of the game.”
Cedartown’s second half lead was snapped 40 seconds later when Gainesville’s Ty Redmon hit a 3-pointer for his only points on the night. The Red Elephants finally started to find a little separation when Manomano hit a pair of 3-pointers with 1:30 left to play in the quarter, making their lead 39-31.
Gainesville turned the early fourth-quarter turnovers into points. Manomano and Jeffries scored two quick baskets in the first minute of the fourth quarter, putting its lead at 43-33. Sims came down court on the next possession and hit both free throws after being fouled.
Dion Smith and Brandon Brown each finished with 14 points for the Bulldogs. Dwayne Jupiter finished with three 3-pointers and 11 points for Cedartown.
“Making it to the semifinals feels so good,” Sims said. “People have doubted us all season, but we always believed in ourselves.”