Sometimes when you’re in a scoring slump, you go to your leading scorer.
On Thursday night, senior Theo Stephens led all scorers in the game with 29 points, including the 1,000th point of his career, as No. 2 seed GHS eliminated No. 7 seed Forest (Ocala), 76-57, in a Class 6A-Region 1 Quarterfinal at The Purple Palace.
After struggling offensively their past two games, GHS put it together, building as much as 24-point lead in the second half.
Last game against Buchholz, GHS coach Mike Barnes said they couldn’t throw it in the ocean if they were in a boat.
“The last two games we had here, everything was a struggle offensively,” Barnes said. “Shots were falling tonight, and I thought our defense in the second half was just way better, especially on (Xzavion) Mccoy.”
Mccoy, who finished with 18 points, got the Wildcats (19-8) going early.
Two minutes into the game he hit a 3-pointer to give Forest an 8-4 lead which they extended to five, 12-7, on a runner down the lane by sophomore Xavier Kirkpatrick (team-high 20 points).
The junior had five points in the opening quarter and 11 at the half, including three 3-pointers.
“Mccoy’s just a fantastic player and we couldn’t keep him in front of us in the first half,” Barnes said. “We were overhelping and he was hitting 3-pointers on us, so we just decided don’t help at all. Jordan Bodie got the start in the second half and I thought he did a really great job of guarding him.”
Especially in the third quarter when Mccoy was held scoreless.
It was Stephens who then got Gainesville going, hitting a 3-pointer to spark a 10-0 run for a 17-7 lead. The senior finished with 11 points in the opening quarter.
“He’s tough, and when he’s going he’s just really tough to handle,” Barnes said. “He’s got 1,000 career points and that’s a huge accomplishment for him. It’s just great.”
GHS scored at least 20 points in each quarter except for the defensive slugfest in the second quarter. The Wildcats outscored the Hurricanes, 12-10, but the ‘Canes led 35-30 at the half thanks to a 3-point buzzer beater in the right corner by Bodie.
But it was a 16-0 run in the third quarter that put the game away.
After only scoring two points in the second quarter, Stephens single-handily outscored Forest in the third quarter, 13-7, to help the Hurricanes separate from their opponent.
He knocked down two 3-pointers in the first 2:10 to extend the lead to 43-31.
“I came in with a mindset because I wanted to score my 1,000th so I came in locked in,” Stephens said. “I really wanted to win so we can keep going. I didn’t want this to be my last game.”
He reached his 1,000th point on a layup off an assist from senior Josh Hayes.
“It feels great because not too many people reach it,” Stephens said.
After the 10-0 run, Forest called a timeout with 5:12 to play in the third quarter down 45-31.
But GHS (22-6) wasn’t done yet.
Junior Anthony Leivonen had a finger roll layup, Stephens had another bucket, and Leivonen added another layup to complete the 16-0 run.
The 6’9 Hayes, who had 15 rebounds in the district championship win against Buchholz, finished with a double-double. The App State signee scored 13 points and grabbed 20 rebounds.
Senior Seth Childers put in another all-around effort with seven assists, three steals, five points, and four rebounds.
After a slow start, Leivonen scored 12 of his 17 points in the second half.
The Hurricanes outscored the Wildcats 21-7 in the third quarter to break open a 2-possession game at the half.
“We just played really well offensively, and we were due,” Barnes said. “We barely hit any outside shots the last two games at districts so I’m just really proud of the guys for sticking with it and on to whoever we play next.”
That would be No. 3 seed Oakleaf (Orange Park), which defeated No. 6 seed Tate (Cantonment), 51-40, in their regional quarterfinal.
The regional semifinals are on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
“We were ready to play tonight,” Barnes said. “We had our first practice Monday and I didn’t think it was that great but then the next two practices were pretty fantastic, starting with Tuesday and Wednesday. Everybody was really locked in and focused. You always play a little harder when your shots are falling.”
Thursday, Feb. 16
Class 6A-Region 1
2 Gainesville 76, 7 Forest (Ocala) 57
Class 5A-Region 1
3 Columbia (Lake City) 66, 6 Pine Forest (Pensacola) 52
Class 4A-Region 2
1 Santa Fe (Alachua) 61, 8 Palm Bay (Melbourne) 58
Class 3A-Region 1
2 FSU High (Tallahassee) 57, 7 P.K. Yonge 51
Class 1A-Region 3
1 Newberry 55, 4 Madison County 41
2 Hawthorne 59, 3 Hilliard 49
Class 1A-Region 4
2 Williston 59, 3 Chiefland 41