GHS eliminated at state


Gainesville's Isaiah Jackson is harassed by two Miami Norland defenders during Thursday's Class 6A state semifinal at The Lakeland Center. (Photo by Pierre DuCharme/The Lakeland Ledger)

Published: Thursday, February 28, 2013 at 1:29 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 28, 2013 at 1:56 p.m.

LAKELAND — Even though Gainesville held its own with defending state champion Miami Norland for three periods on Thursday at the The Lakeland Center, there was a sense it was only a matter of time before the taller and ball-hawking Vikings would seize control.

In the fourth period, Norland did just that.

The Vikings turned up the defensive intensity, holding the Hurricanes scoreless until the 1:53 mark, en route to a dominating 73-50 victory in the Class 6A state semifinals.

Gainesville (21-10), which trailed by just two after the first (16-14) and three (32-29) at half, had battled back from two 11-point deficits in the third and were down just 49-45 with 52 seconds left in the period.



But Larry McKnight's basket for the Vikings at the end of the period started a 20-0 Norland run, in which the Hurricanes were having trouble just keeping the ball in the fourth quarter, turning what was once a tight semifinal into a blowout.

Norland (25-5) will play Pensacola Pine Forest (30-1), a 59-52 winner over Winter Haven, in Saturday's 6A state final.

“We didn't play our best basketball today and you got to give a lot of credit to Miami Norland,” said Gainesville coach Kelly Beckham, whose team was making its first appearance in Lakeland since winning the 5A title in 2009. “They (Norland) came out with great energy and turned us over. I think we had 13 or 14 turnovers at halftime. You are only down three at that point, but when you are at the final four, you can't turn the ball over.”

The Hurricanes had 26 turnovers in the game and the Vikings turned those into 27 points. Norland scored 44 of its points inside and its bench outscored GHS, 44-16. The 'Canes, who had more rebounds than the Vikings at the half, trailed by end of the game, 36-34.

Gainesville, 10-7 at one point this season, played its best basketball when it mattered most — the postseason — winning at two of the top teams in the state at Leesburg and Orlando Edgewater in the regionals last week.

But the Vikings, who have two players at 6-foot-7, one at 6-9 and two at 6-6, proved more difficult because of their length, denying GHS many opportunities to score inside.

“I would say the advantage Norland has over those other teams was the number of big players,” Beckham said. “Where others would have one or two, they had five or six.”

GHS led once when senior Michael McCray scored the game's first basket on a 3-pointer, his first of four for the game. An 8-0 spurt put the Vikings ahead 16-9, but McCray's second 3-pointer and a basket from Isaiah Jackson pulled the 'Canes within two, 16-14, at the end of the first.

A 7-0 run late in the second gave Norland a 32-24 lead, but again, GHS answered back, getting a basket from Kevin Bolen and a 3-pointer from Jackson to trail only 32-29 at the half.

Junior guard Zach Johnson, who had a game-high 19 points, scored four of the first five baskets in the second half for Norland, leading the Vikings to an 11-point advantage (44-33). But again, the 'Canes rallied, getting back-to-back 3-pointers from McCray, who had a team-high 15 in the game, to close within five (51-45) heading into the fourth.

But Ike Smith's basket with 52 seconds left in the third was the last score by GHS until backup Ronte' Oates' score with 1:53 remaining and the game well out of reach.

“We were just a little bit too much perimeter, a little tentative about getting the ball inside on them,” Beckham said. “By doing that, we were tentatively throwing the ball around the perimeter and they intercepted a lot of passes and ended up with a lot of one-on-none layups.

“The last couple of weeks, seeing them reach their potential and playing together, has been two of the more fun weeks of my coaching career. You always like to see your team overachieve and enjoy success. I think we reached our potential. They deserved to be here, they really did. I know some people will look at us and think we lucked out and won a couple of games, but the bottom line is they put in the work. They earned the right to be here.”

Sophomore Eric Turner scored all 11 of his points in the first half for the 'Canes. Jackson had 10.

Despite its exit in the state semifinals, GHS should be strong again next season with the return of Jackson, Turner, Bolen and Smith.

“I felt we just kind of gave up in the fourth,” said Jackson, a junior. “When they made their run, we were still right there, just a couple of plays away from where we needed to be.

“It has been great, I've enjoyed playing with the seniors this year. I love my team and hopefully we were be back next year.”

“We need to put in more hard work during the offseason to get better, come back and win a state title,” Bolen said. “We want to come back and go all the way.”

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