Posted: Saturday, March 9th 2013 at 4:37am
OH SO CLOSE: Gainesville basketball edged out in final seconds
By Jeff Hart Staff
MACON -- It was billed as mission impossible for the Gainesville boys basketball team: knock off four-time defending state champion Miller Grove in the Class AAAAA state finals.
And for nearly three quarters on Friday, the Red Elephants were poised to do just that.
But, the things that had helped propel them into their first title game since 1984 were the very things that became their undoing in a tough 61-57 loss at the Macon Centreplex.
Miller Grove (30-3) outrebounded Gainesville 20-15, converted 14 second chance points, and turned 10 turnovers into 12 points in the second half to rally from a 25-19 first half deficit to capture an unprecedented fifth straight title. The Wolverines have not lost in the playoffs since falling to Fayette County in the 2008 Final Four.
“The rebounding in the second half was the difference,” Gainesville coach Todd Cottrell said. “We also had trouble taking care of the ball and we gave up too many easy baskets in the second half. But we had our chances at the end.
“We just couldn’t get our hands on the ball when we had a shot. The guys are disappointed but I’m extremely proud of them. They gave it everything they had against a team no one thought they could beat.”
The opening minutes of the fourth quarter had all the makings of a classic finish as the two teams traded the lead eight times until the Wolverines took the lead for good, 50-49, on a basket by Earl Bryant with 4:52 left. Miller Grove would then turn up the defense, forcing four consecutive Gainesville turnovers to push its lead to 56-51 with just under two minutes left.
Gainesville pulled within 56-55 on a Chase England basket and two England free throws with 1:12 left and had two more chances over the next 30 seconds to tie the game or take the lead.
Tray Harrison, the semifinals hero, was not able to corral a loose ball and Caleb Hayman had a defensive rebound ripped out of his hands after a Miller Grove missed free throw. Both would be converted into points by the Wolverines to push the lead back to 59-55 with 33.7 seconds left.
The Red Elephants would not go away, however, trimming the lead to 59-57 on two Shaquan Cantrell free throws with 27.3 seconds left and then a Deshaun Watson steal on the ensuing inbounds pass would give Gainesville a chance to tie with 21.2 seconds remaining. But they could not convert the free throws and the Wolverines were able to get a Alterique Gilbert layup with 11 seconds left to ice the game.
“That was a tough stretch because you feel if you come up with those it’s a different ending. But that happens sometimes,” Cottrell said.
The second half for Miller Grove was a far cry from the first half. The Wolverines were held to a season-low five points in the second quarter and trailed 25-19 at halftime as the Red Elephants controlled the pace of the game. But the Wolverines exploded for 22 third quarter points to grab a 41-39 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
“That’s the beauty of sports,” Cottrell said. “We were close enough to taste it but you have to make plays. They made more plays in the second half.”
The Wolverines over the past five seasons have done a lot of the work before games by reputation and intimidation. The Red Elephants did not seemed fazed from the start.
Cottrell said he was not surprised.
The game changed hands seven times in the first half. Miller Grove opened with a quick basket for a 2-0 lead but Gainesville answered with a 7-0 run, capped by a Watson 3-pointer. The Wolverines would recover, however, with the help of television.
A rare TV timeout halted the Elephants momentum and Miller Grove came out of the time out with a 10-2 run, behind six points from Gilbert, to reclaim the lead and take a 14-11 advantage into the second quarter.
“I don’t think that affected us much. Both teams had to deal with it. If anything it gave us a chance to catch our breath,” Cottrell said.
Gainesville’s defense came alive in the second period. They held the Wolverines to a season-low five-point quarter, holding them without a field goal and just one free throw over the final 3:56 of the half.
Gainesville’s long-range shooters also got hot at the same time hitting three consecutive 3-pointers, one each from Luke Moore, Cantrell, and Watson, to run out to a 20-16 lead. Moore would hit a driving layup with 1:20 left and Caleb Hayman on a beautiful assist from Moore would cap the half with an acrobatic shot to give the Red Elephants a 25-19 lead at halftime, their biggest of the game to that point.
Cantrell (5), Hayman (4), and Watson (4) also helped Gainesville control the pace by dominating the boards, outrebounding the Wolverines 21-14 in the first half. They held Miller Grove to just three offensive rebounds and four second chance points.
Cantrell would finish with 19 points to lead Gainesville. Moore had 13 points and Watson 12 for the Elephants, who finished the season 23-10. England would finish with five points and 10 rebounds before fouling out late.
Gilbert, a freshman, paced Miller Grove with 19 points, 13 in the second half, and almost all slashing through the lane. Keith Pickney added 14 points and Bryant had 13 for the Wolverines.
© Copyright 2013 AccessNorthGa.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.