Gainesville holds off Vanguard

Vanguard and Gainesville players fight for the ball during the game at Gainesville High School on Thursday in Gainesville

Lee Ferinden/Correspondent
Published: Thursday, January 3, 2013 at 11:39 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 3, 2013 at 11:39 p.m.

With both Gainesville and Ocala Vanguard dropping two straight at the recent Kingdom of the Sun boys basketball tournament, both teams wanted to open the new year with a key district win.

Fortunately for the host Hurricanes, they were able to hit enough free throws in the closing minutes to seal it.

Isaiah Jackson scored 13 of his 21 points in the first half while Mark McCray had 13 of his 19 points in the second half and Ike Smith finished with 15 points and 13 rebounds as Gainesville held off Vanguard 70-65 in a key District 5-6A game Thursday night at Purple Palace.

A dunk by Mark McGraw gave Vanguard (6-6, 3-2 in district) a 61-58 edge with less than five minutes left, but two quick baskets by Smith and Jackson put Gainesville ahead to stay at 62-61. From there, the Hurricanes (10-5, 3-1 in district) slowed their offense and milked the clock, picking up key fouls and hitting six of 11 free throws down the stretch. Not a great percentage, but enough to stave off the visiting Knights.

Quite a difference from a month ago when Gainesville lost rather convincingly at Vanguard (68-51).

“Our ability to knock down shots tonight was a big difference,” said Hurricanes coach Kelly Beckham. “When we went down there, they shot a very high percentage and we struggled to score a little bit. Our kids played hard tonight. I was very proud of them. Vanguard has a quality team. They are very similar to us. They are a good team.

“The competition we played at the Kingdom was elite, and hopefully it will help us down the road. Tonight was almost a must-win for both teams.”

Both Gainesville and Vanguard have very athletic squads and neither were able to open decent leads in the game as the Hurricanes led after the first (15-14), but Vanguard hung on for a one-point edge (28-27) at the half.

McCray gave Gainesville its biggest lead of the game at 49-44 in the third, but the Knights once again closed the deficit quickly and trailed by only one (49-48) going into the fourth.

Evans Moreau led the Knights with 21 points, and Raheem Freeman added 17.

The 6-foot-6 Jackson, who hit three 3-pointers in the first half, finished with eight rebounds and five assists.

“He kind of makes it all go for us,” Beckham said. “He distributed the ball well tonight.

“We did a nice job in the second half running our half-court offense. We were able to knock down at least half of our free throws.

The 'Canes have a couple of tough tests awaiting them. On Saturday, Gainesville will face defending 5A state champion Lake Wales at the Dante Anderson Memorial Invitational at Eastside. Game time is set for 6:30 p.m. On Tuesday, it will travel to district frontrunner Leesburg, which is ranked No. 2 in the state.

“We've scheduled it tough this year and hopefully it will help us,” Beckham said.

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