GHS to host Columbia in top 10 showdown


The Gainesville and Columbia (Lake City) boys basketball teams have played a tough schedule this season.

Yet, they each have double-digit wins with four weeks still left in the regular season.

They’re also both ranked among the top teams in the state in their respective classifications.

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The Hurricanes, who will host Columbia at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday at the Purple Palace, are ranked No. 9 in Class 6A by MaxPreps. The visiting Tigers are ranked No. 9 in Class 5A.

They’re both among the top 12 teams in the regional all-classification rankings.

“I’m pleased with where we’re at right now,” said Gainesville coach Mike Barnes. “We let a few get away over the Christmas break but I think we’re starting to hit our groove with getting guys involved and getting the ball where we want offensively.”

GHS (12-4) played three-time 2A state champion Orlando Christian Prep the No. 5 overall team in Florida according to MaxPreps — 4A state semifinalist Andrew Jackson (Jacksonville) and Class 5A No. 3 Auburndale over a 3-day period, Dec. 20-22.

The Hurricanes were tied with OCP with a minute to play at the Battle on the Island pre-Christmas tournament at Fleming Island (Orange Park) on Dec. 20, before falling 57-49.

“I think if we can play with them, we can play with anybody,” Barnes said.

The visiting Tigers (10-5) have also played OCP, lost by only three to 6A No. 6 Lakeland (61-58), and by just four (63-59) to 6A No. 4 South Plantation.

Gainesville's Theo Stephens averages a team-leading 15.9 points per game for the Hurricanes.
Photo by C.J. Gish Gainesville’s Theo Stephens averages a team-leading 15.9 points per game for the Hurricanes.

The Tigers had six guys that they didn’t get back from football until the first week of December and they got off to a 2-2 start.

“We are OK,” said Columbia basketball coach Steve Faulkner, who was an assistant coach at GHS from 2003-2009. “I wish we were a little further along than we are, but the goal is always to be firing on all cylinders leading up to the district tournament, so we have four weeks to get there.”

Columbia lost by three at home to GHS, 48-45, on Dec. 8.

“It was a tough game, they’re really good,” Barnes said. “They’ve got a really good guard in (Isaac) Broxey. We were their second game back after the football players came back so I know they’ll be ready to go and we’ll be ready for them.”

Broxey had 21 points in the first meeting against the Hurricanes. The 6’1 senior point guard leads the team with an average of 17.5 points per game. He also averages 3.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 2.1 steals per game.

“He is a very good player,” Faulkner said. “He can score in multiple ways. He has become a very good defensive player as well. He has definitely made himself into a college basketball player.”

Ty’jahn Wright (12.7 ppg), and Seth Stockton (11 ppg) also average in double figures for the Tigers.

The Hurricanes, who are seeking a 5-game winning streak after defeating city rival Buchholz, 69-61, last Friday, snapped a 5-game losing streak to the Tigers last month.

Theo Stephens leads GHS in scoring with an average of 15.9 points per game.

App State signee Joshua Hayes, who transferred from The Rock, is second for the Hurricanes averaging 13.9 points per game.

“I’m just really glad he’s here,” Barnes said. “He’s 6’9 and just kind of swallows everything up when it comes to the basket. He makes the opposing team think about shooting those shots that are close in and rebounds the ball really well. We’re working on getting his motor 100% of the game but he has some stretches where he just looks dominant out there.”

Hayes showed that dominance against Vanguard (Ocala) last Tuesday when he scored 16 points and grabbed 18 rebounds in a 64-53 win.

Columbia thrives off its pressure defense, which forced 24 turnovers in a 72-53 win at Baker County (Glen St. Mary) last Friday.

“They’re tough,” Barnes said. “They play tough man-to-man (defense). It will be a close one.”

Faulkner has a couple of concerns of his own.

“GHS is very good,” he said. “They are well coached as well. The first thing that concerns me is the Hayes kid. We have to do a job on him to limit the impact he has on the game.”

Faulkner said his next concern is the combination of seniors (Seth) Childers and Stephens.

“They comprise one of the best backcourts in our area,” he said. “We will need to take care of the ball, make them really work on the offensive side for everything they get, and rebound well to come out victorious tonight.”

Tuesday night’s game will be broadcast live online (audio only) at with coverage beginning at 7:15 p.m.

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