OAKWOOD — Feeling the effects of an illness all week, Gainesville senior George Manomano started the game in an unfamiliar place, on the bench.
While he didn’t impact the start of the game against West Hall, he certainly made his presence known when it mattered most.
With less than one minute to play and the score tied 54-54, Manomano came up with a critical steal, threw the ball down court to a streaking Blake Sims, who laid the ball in to give Gainesville the lead.
After another West Hall turnover gave the ball back to the Red Elephants, the senior guard was fouled and sealed a 58-54 victory by knocking down two free throws.
“It was a team effort,” said Manomano, who scored all seven of his points in the fourth quarter. “We came together and I think we learned how to finish games. That’s what I’m most happy about.”
The win over Class AAA’s sixth-ranked team made Manomano all but forget about his week-long illness.
“I feel great,” said Manomano, who also blocked a 3-pointer at the end of the game. “We’re coming together. It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish and I think we’re going to be great in the end.”
The Red Elephants (8-7, 3-1 Region 7B-AAA) certainly were great in the end Friday against West Hall (15-4, 1-3).
Mired in a close, slow-paced game that produced six ties and 13 lead changes, Gainesville was able to pull off a victory despite both teams having an off night offensively.
“You can’t rely on your offense every night,” Gainesville coach Todd Cottrell said. “Our defense helped us out tonight. It was a good win.”
Especially since West Hall took Gainesville out of its game by using a stall tactic on every offensive possession in the fourth quarter, which started with the score tied at 41.
After a Sims steal and layup gave the Red Elephants a two-point lead, both teams traded baskets throughout the duration of the final quarter.
The largest lead of the final eight minutes came after West Hall scored back-to-back baskets, the first on a Shunquez Stephens’ 3-pointer and the second on a Rodney Gibson layup that put the Spartans ahead by four points.
Gainesville answered with a short spurt to cut the deficit to one, but three made free throws by Terrell Penland and Kyle Weatherly pushed the lead back to four.
Those free throws were the last points that West Hall scored.
A Manomano putback cut the deficit to two points, and after two missed free throws by West Hall, Sims dribbled down the floor, pulled up from 15 feet and drilled a jumpshot to tie the game at 54.
One minute later, Manomano came up with the steal and assist to Sims that clinched the win. The final two points by Sims were his eighth of the fourth quarter. He ended the game with a team-high 10 points.
“He’s a special player,” Cottrell said of Sims.
While the play of Sims and Manomano proved to be the difference, Cottrell said the outcome would have been different without his whole team getting involved.
“I’m real proud of the guys tonight,” he said. “They played a good game against a real good team.”
West Hall was led by Kavon Williams and Stephens, who each scored 13 points.
Gainesville’s win Friday was the first time the Red Elephants have defeated West Hall in the last four meetings. Gainesville has now won three straight games and is currently tied with Flowery Branch for first place in the subregion.
After starting the year 11-0, West Hall has now dropped three of its last four games.
Gainesville visits Wesleyan at 5:30 tonight. West Hall visits East Hall at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Gainesville girls 46, West Hall 36
Despite an incredible performance by Jayla Moon, the Lady Spartans fell 10 points shy of upending No. 9 Gainesville on Friday in Oakwood.
Moon, who scored her 1,000 career point on her first 3-pointer of the night, finished with a game-high 29 points and 15 rebounds. Fifteen of those points came in the final quarter to help pull her team within 10 points.
While West Hall (8-10, 2-3 Region 7B-AAA) relied heavily on the scoring of Moon, Gainesville (10-6, 5-0) used a balance scoring attack.
Mikalyn DeFoor led the Lady Red Elephants with 16 points. Seven Gainesville players scored on the night with Madison Strickland scoring seven, Rebecca Webster scoring six, and Jaymee Carnes and Kiki Thompson chipping in with five. Thompson led the team with six assists.
Gainesville visits Wesleyan at 4 p.m. today, while West Hall visits East Hall at 6 p.m. Tuesday.