GHS faces Miami Norland for spot in state title game
Published: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at 6:14 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 28, 2013 at 10:14 a.m.
Gainesville has passed two huge road tests to advance to the boys state basketball tournament. The question is: Are the Hurricanes up to the challenge of clearing an even taller task?
Class 6A state semifinals
Who: Gainesville (21-9) vs. No. 3 Miami Norland (24-5)
When: Thursday, noon
Where: The Lakeland Center
State titles: GHS- 5 (2009, 2000, 1999, 1969, 1923); Norland- 3 (2012, 2008, 2006)
Because that will be what is waiting for them Thursday at The Lakeland Center in the Class 6A state semifinals — defending state champion Miami Norland.
Gainesville coach Kelly Beckham likens the No. 3 Vikings (24-5) to both of the Hurricanes' upset victims in Leesburg (No. 1 by MaxPreps) and Orlando Edgewater (No. 1 by Source Hoops) in style and athletic ability. Only bigger.
“They are very talented, very athletic and have quite a bit of size,” Beckham said. “I think they have four players, two at 6-foot-6, one at 6-7 and one at 6-9. They are a very good basketball team.”
Thursday's battle takes place at noon and can be seen online at fhsaa.playonsports.com.
Gainesville (21-9), which was 10-7 at one point this season, has won 11 of its last 13 games, with both losses coming to district-rival Leesburg. The most embarrassing being a 32-point pounding (91-59) by the Yellow Jackets in the District 5 tournament final at South Lake on Feb. 8.
GHS hasn't lost since.
“On the defensive end is where we have grown a lot in the last few weeks,” said Beckham, who led the 'Canes to the state 5A title in 2009, the school's fifth overall and the last area boys title in basketball. “We only allowed 55 points at Edgewater. We are going to have to do a good job on the defensive end against Norland. That will be the key to the game.”
Gainesville is led by 6-6 junior guard Isaiah Jackson, who has been sensational in the playoffs, and leads the team in points (16.0), rebounds (7.7) and assists (5.4) per game. Sophomore Ike Smith, who had a team-high 17 points at Edgewater, junior Kevin Bolen (11.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg) and sophomore Eric Turner (10.3 ppg) have stepped up their game in the postseason.
But the Vikings, who have won three state titles in six years, have been simply dominant in the state playoffs, winning by 26 and 21 points in their last two games, in which they scored in the 80s.
Junior guard Zach Johnson, Norland's leading scorer, had 29 and 27 points in the last two playoffs games. Junior center Tyrell Williams (6-7) totaled 14 rebounds in the Vikings' regional semifinal win.
Leesburg coach Marcel Thomas, whose team lost to Norland in the 6A final last year, said it will be imperative for GHS to shoot the ball well.
“Norland is going to rotate three or four guys 6-7 or better so it is going be extremely tough for them to put the ball in the basket if they are not shooting well,” Thomas said. “That is what kind of happened to us last year. Every shot was contested.
“When you are playing a Miami Norland team, they have a significant size advantage and experience that is going to be a tough challenge for them. I do believe they have the best player on the court in Isaiah Jackson. He does give them a chance. He is going to be the guy that determines if Gainesville wins or not, in my opinion.”
There has been one common opponent between the two teams in 3A state semifinalist Coral Springs Christian, which lost to GHS (60-57) at the Kingdom of the Sun tournament in Ocala in December, but beat Norland (47-45) a few weeks later.
“They seemed to be focused,” Beckham said of his team. “I guess you really don't know until game time. I think we will have to shoot it well, unless defensively we can turn up the pressure and create some turnovers for fast-break opportunities.
“You have to make sure they understand that this is a special opportunity. They want to come and play with a high level of intensity and enthusiasm. You can't be timid by the moment. You have be there and take advantage of a great opportunity.”