Rams tough against 'Canes

Eastside guard Raheem Watkins drives to the basket between Gainesville defenders Tim Norman, left, and Calvin Long during their game at Santa Fe College on Friday.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, January 21, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 22, 2011 at 12:13 a.m.

Losers of three straight games this season, and six of their last seven meetings against rival Gainesville High, Eastside coach Herman “Pop” Williams and his Rams were ready for a change.

Playing before a packed house at Santa Fe College, the Rams used an effective inside game to seize control in the second period, then held off a furious Hurricane rally in the fourth as Eastside topped Gainesville, 53-49, Friday night.

Barry Johnson’s inside basket early in the fourth period gave the Rams their biggest lead of the night at 13 (43-30), but the Hurricanes slowly chipped away at that margin. A 3-pointer by freshman Isaiah Jackson, then back-to-back baskets by Jackson and Derrick Walker pulled GHS to within five, 47-42. After Eastside pushed the margin to nine, the Hurricanes used a full-court trapping defense to turn consecutive steals into five straight points, highlighted by Michael McCray’s 3-pointer, trimming the Rams’ lead to four, 51-47 with 40.7 seconds left. But that would be as close as the Hurricanes would get, as a late 3-pointer fell short and Devonta Mosley hit a pair of free throws with 7.5 seconds left to preserve the Rams’ victory.

“This is a great win for our program,” Williams said. “We came into this game losers of three straight, so we really needed this. We have another district game tomorrow night at Dunnellon, so we need to get our rest and be ready to go.”

Mosley led the Rams with 17 points and Barry Johnson added 15 as Eastside improved to 9-7 on the season. Jackson also had 17 to lead Gainesville (10-10), and McCray chipped in 11.

“We were just too little, too late, like it has seemed for us all season,” said Hurricanes coach Kelly Beckham. “I still think we can be a good basketball team heading into districts. I don’t think you can judge a season by one game.”

With the game tied at 17-17, the Rams got back-to-back 3-pointers from Mosley and Johnson, then inside baskets from both to fuel a 10-0 run and a 27-20 lead at the half.

That inside presence continued in the third, as consecutive put-backs from Sedrick Waldon and Johnson stretched the margin to 12, 33-21. Gainesville answered back with a 9-2 run, led by McCray and Jackson, but the Rams closed the period with three free throws and a pretty reverse layup by Austin Graham for a 40-30 edge going into the final period.

“We really wanted to take advantage of our height and go inside, and focused on that in second quarter,” Williams said. “They had five guards out there and were able to get it inside to our big guys.”

Eastside played half of the second period and all of the third without starter Rodney Mills, who sat on the bench with four fouls.

“He got in foul trouble, and I wasn’t sure how we would respond with him out,” Williams said. “But I was proud of the guys, and the way they played together.”

Beckham’s young Hurricanes, who have played inconsistent at times this season, struggled defensively inside against the Rams.

“Defensively, we were on top of our game at all,” Beckham said. “Obviously, with our size, they wanted to take advantage and go inside on us, and they did that.”

The Hurricanes return to action Tuesday night when they host Columbia at the Purple Palace. After tonight’s game at Dunnellon, Eastside returns home next week to face District 5-4A leaders Ocala Vanguard (Tuesday) and Leesburg (Friday).

Contact Larry Savage at 352-374-5050 or larry.savage@gvillesun.com

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