Despite winning a third straight game to start the season, it was hard for Gainesville High basketball coach Todd Cottrell to sum up his team’s 63-58 overtime win over Franklin County on Tuesday in Gainesville.
After all, the Red Elephants (3-0) had 19 turnovers, shot just 38 percent from the field, and needed three quarters to finally get into a groove.
“We played when we had to,” Cottrell said. “I don’t think we played well overall, but that has a lot to do with Franklin and the tempo they established.”
The Lions’ tempo was opposite of what Gainesville wanted. Franklin County (1-3) used a methodical, slow-pace style that kept the highly athletic Red Elephants at bay and frustrated the offense early in the game.
But the Red Elephants finally turned the tide of the game at the beginning of the fourth quarter with Franklin County leading 41-37. Using full-court pressure, the Red Elephants caused a turnover on five straight Franklin County possessions and eventually took a 44-42 lead on a pair of Ke’Odric Sadler free throws. That lead was the first for Gainesville since it led 23-21 in the second quarter.
“That press got us playing like we like to play,” Cottrell said. “We finally saw the ball go in, and we had a hard time seeing that in the first three quarters.”
Despite the torrid pace that favored Gainesville, the Lions adapted their game and the two teams traded baskets until the game was tied at 48 with a minute left to play.
The two teams then traded turnovers that gave the Lions the ball with a chance to win with 23.8 seconds left. A traveling violation gave the ball back to Gainesville, which quickly got the ball up court and into the hands of Shaquan Cantrell, who was fouled with 3.1 seconds left to play.
With a chance to win the game for his team, Cantrell missed the front end of a 1-and-1 to send the game to overtime.
“I was kind of disappointed,” said Cantrell, who scored nine points and had eight rebounds. “In overtime, I knew we had to come out to play if we wanted to win.”
Playing with the intensity carried over from the fourth quarter, Gainesville scored the first five points of overtime to take a 53-48 lead.
After a pair of free throws by Lee Smith cut the lead to three, freshman Deshaun Watson drove hard to the hoop to give his team a five-point cushion. Watson had 11 points and eight rebounds for the Red Elephants, who also received 13 points from Tray Harrison, nine points from Quon Holcomb, and five points, five rebounds and three blocks from A.J. Johnson.
Franklin County wouldn’t go away, and the Lions cut the deficit to two after two free throws by KeShawn Mayfield, who led Franklin County with 16 points and 11 rebounds.
With the Lions applying full-court pressure, Gainesville used its speed to its advantage, as Javez Warren (six points, six assists) split through the defenders and tossed the ball ahead to Cantrell, who threw down an empathic dunk to give his team the lead for good.
“Everyone knew we had to pick it up as a team,” said Cantrell, who admitted his second dunk of the night all but made him forget about the missed free throw. “Everyone knew we had to step up if we wanted to win on our home court.”
Although it’s early in the season, the sophomore guard knows how important this win is.
“It’s a morale booster,” he said. “We can play with anybody.”
Cottrell isn’t quite ready to make that assessment.
“We have a lot of work to do,” he said. “We’ve played three quality teams with three different styles and hopefully that helps us prepare for what we’ll see in the future.
“Still, I’m encouraged with a lot of things.”
Gainesville visits North Oconee at 8:30 p.m. Friday.