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Tag-team effort of Blackwell, Shelton in fourth quarter help Gainesville girls hold off Habersham Central for 53-49 win
Gainesville boys steamroll Raiders in nightcap game of region basketball doubleheader
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Gainesville's Jada Rucker rebounds the ball with Habersham's Nikerriah Brown, left, and Addie Penick defending on Friday, Jan. 18, 2019, at Gainesville High School. - photo by Austin Steele

For the second time this week, Gainesville High’s girls basketball team found itself locked in a barn burner. Only this time, the outcome was more favorable.

Seniors Tija Blackwell and Tia Shelton combined for all 16 of Gainesville’s fourth-quarter points to lift the Lady Red Elephants to a 53-49 triumph over Habersham Central Friday night, an uplifting finish to an air-tight region bout in Gainesville. 

With the win, the Lady Red Elephants (11-8, 3-3 Region 8-6A) complete the region sweep of the Lady Raiders and near the final turn of the regular season, only four games removed from the region tournament.

“Anytime you beat a team in the region — no matter what the score is — you kind of gotta wake up the second time you play ‘em and understand everybody’s seen everybody, making adjustments and doing different things,” Gainesville coach Alan Griffin said. “It was just a really good ballgame, and I’m proud of our kids for pulling through at the end, doing the little things.”

Both squads refused to budge in the second region clash of the season. With a combined eight ties and 11 lead changes — four in the fourth quarter — in an intense see-saw battle, Gainesville’s scoring duo clearly took charge when it mattered most. 

Shelton’s second fourth-quarter 3-pointer offset a 6-0 Habersham Central run to make it 45-45. Less than two minutes later, Blackwell took her cue.

Blackwell snagged a bucket off an Ariah Jeffers steal, and was perfect from the free-throw line in her final two trips to score Gainesville’s last six points. Sadie Roach wrangled in a pivotal defensive rebound with 5.8 seconds left to ice the game.

Blackwell poured in a game-high 23 points (6-for-6 free throws), while Shelton finished with 16 points with three treys and a 3-of-4 clip from the stripe. 

“You know, Tia and Tija have a way to make shots; thinking about redshirting them,” quipped Griffin. “They are tough competitors, they don’t quit on each other and when things are tough, they really get tough.”

Lauren Teasley chipped in eight points as another vital piece for the Lady Red Elephants. But really, Griffin felt his team went eight deep against a Habersham Central (3-13, 0-4) unit that had four scorers in double figures and hung around until the closing seconds. 

The Lady Raiders climbed out to an 8-0 lead in the opening quarter, and proceeded to give Gainesville fits in the rebounding department throughout the first half.

The Lady Raiders out-rebounded Gainesville 26-11 for the first two quarters with numerous second-chance looks — even coming down with four-straight on one possession before absorbing contact.

“We were blocking out well in the first half,” Griffin said. “(At halftime) we talked about the second part of rebounding, which is going up and getting the ball. Great blocking out, (but) you gotta go get the ball.”

The Lady Raiders were also able to maneuver around Gainesville’s press, creating gaps through constant ball movement. McKenzie Williams in the post contributed to Habersham Central’s early success with 9 of her 14 points coming in the first two quarters.

Taylor Wade (14 points) knotted the score at the second-quarter buzzer with an alley-oop floater off the inbounds to make it 24-all.

“Habersham did a great job tonight … they really did,” Griffin said. “They hit open shots, they rebounded well, their big girl (McKenzie Williams) is a good player, their point guard’s a good player.”

The difference was night and day for the Lady Red Elephants in the second half. 

To open the third quarter, Gainesville turned up the defensive intensity as Shelton ripped a ball away from a Lady Raiders player and dished to Blackwell for a score in the fast break. Minutes later, Gainesville’s pressure triggered Habersham Central into back-to-back five-second violations to stay ahead midway through the period. Blackwell continued to protect that lead with a nifty floater inside the paint to go up 35-32, which came seconds after Habersham Central’s Nikerriah Brown made a turnaround 3 to pull within one of the hosts with 3:06 remaining in the third.

With another crisis averted, Griffin's squad looks to the final stretch of games.

“This region’s getting pretty interesting,” Griffin said. “Winder-Barrow beat Dacula the other night, we took Lanier to the last minute, Habersham took Dacula and us to the last minute, and Habersham beat Apalachee by five. … Gosh, everybody keeps getting better and better. And I am just really impressed by the level of basketball. It’s gonna be a heck of a region tournament.”

On Tuesday, Gainesville visits Dacula at 6 p.m.

GAINESVILLE BOYS 76, HABERSHAM CENTRAL 47: Rafael Rubel scored a game-high 15 points, three more notched double figures and nearly every rostered player contributed points for the Red Elephants.

Datavian Buffington and Walt Dixon chipped in 12 points apiece, while Jordan Williams had 13 for the Red Elephants (13-8, 5-1 Region 8-6A). Gainesville carried a 20-point lead at halftime and held all Raiders scorers to single digits en route to a season sweep of Habersham Central (2-16, 0-5). 

Grant Tipton, Dontarius Bailey and Grayson Adams led the Raiders with six points apiece. 

Now winners in nine of its last 10 games, Gainesville currently sits in second place in the region behind unbeaten Lanier, which defeated the Red Elephants 78-77 in overtime in the previous meeting. 

Gainesville visits Dacula for a 7:30 p.m. tipoff.

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