Cometh the man, cometh the hour.
D’Marcus Simonds quickly established himself as Gainesville’s most lethal offensive threat this season, scoring 42 points in a 62-59 double overtime victory over Heritage Tuesday night in the Region 8-AAAAA opener for both teams.
The junior shooting guard, who transferred from Buford prior to the season, scored 12 of the Red Elephants’ 17 points during two overtime periods, including the two free throws that iced the win in front of a raucous crowd in Gainesville’s home opener.
Red Elephants coach Benjie Wood seemed to realize that not much needed to be said about Simonds’ performance.
“Yeah, he’s a pretty good player,” Wood said, smiling.
The comeback marked Wood’s 300th win as a coach, but it was in serious doubt for Gainesville (5-0, 1-0 region) as early as the second quarter. Heritage (0-2, 0-1) rattled off a 11-0 run to enter the half up 31-21. Rashad Jones (nine points) picked up six unanswered, including a coast-to-coast layup as time expired to shut the door on an impressive half for the Patriots.
It took a furious effort from Simonds — who recently committed to Mississippi State over schools like Connecticut, Florida and Georgia — for Gainesville to wrestle back in it. His midrange jumper found only net, and he added to his total by stealing a pass from San Marteen Rozier (5 points) to throw down his second dunk of the night and cut the lead to two.
The junior then sank both of his next free throws to tie the game heading into the final quarter of regulation.
Simonds proceeded to score all eight of Gainesville’s points in the fourth quarter, including two shots from the wing to balance out Makayle Wilkerson’s (10 points) ability to drive in the lane. Isaiah Banks bobbled an inbounds pass on Heritage’s final possession, giving a cold Gainesville bench the opportunity to make a difference.
“Both teams were making mistakes, it’s early in the season,” Wood said. “We came out ready to play and cut the lead just as we did, but we made a lot of bone-headed plays to let them back in it.”
The Patriots had their best chance to win with 20.5 seconds left in the first overtime when Andre Harris (7 points) sank both free throws to open up a 50-47 lead.
It fell to junior Sam Carpenter, alone on the left wing, to sink a three-pointer with under 10 seconds remaining to send the game to a second overtime. Carpenter hadn’t scored before his crucial trey fell in to keep the Red Elephants alive.
“Oh man, I was hyped,” Simonds said of Carpenter’s shot. “That was crazy. ... That was awesome.”
Simonds traded buckets all over the court with Wilkerson as fatigue set in on defense. Heritage took a 60-59 lead on a free throw before a shot by Simonds found freshman Xavier Bledson in the paint on the rebound. His putback from six feet out proved to be too much for the Patriots to overcome.
By the time Simonds was draining his final two free throws on the next possession, Wood was getting hugs from his players.
The victory wasn’t exactly pretty, but Wood said he’ll be looking for improvement from the Red Elephants.
“Somehow or another, we got the win,” he said. “But we’ve got to make corrections and move forward.”
It was a big night for Simonds, who says Tuesday was his third-highest scoring night of his high school career.
“Words can’t describe, I cannot describe how that felt,” he said of the taxing overtime periods. “I was cramping up on all parts of my body. But it’s not a scoring thing, it’s all about the team and bringing a win home. I had a good game, that’s all.”
GAINESVILLE GIRLS 59, HERITAGE 28: The Lady Red Elephants scored 21 points in the second quarter to pull away from a gritty Heritage team for a 59-28 victory.
Taylor Hawks led all scorers with 16 points while Shikiya Brown added 12, including seven in the fourth quarter. Kayla Kelly also added 11 to give Gainesville its second win of the season.
Heritage’s shooters went cold in the second quarter when they scored just three points (all free throws) to lose their fourth straight. There were no Patriot players who scored in double digits.