Once again, the game lived up to its billing.
Heading into Friday night’s showdown in the Hornets’ nest, six of the last seven games in the Eastside-Hawthorne series had been decided by five points or less.
And for the second straight year, the Rams came out on top.
Senior Omar Brown scored a game-high 22 points as the Rams (18-1), ranked third in the state in Class 4A by MaxPreps, overcame a slow start to defeat the Hornets, 62-61, for their 15th straight win.
“I feel like I could have done better with decision-making at the end of the game and controlling the game as a point guard, taking the pressure off of Jarvey (Gainey),” said Brown, who scored Eastside’s first points of the game with 4:28 to play in the first quarter to end a 9-0 run by the Hornets to start the game.
Brown missed the front end of 1-and-1 with 9.5 seconds to play that gave Hawthorne the ball with a chance to win.
“I should have hit the free throw,” Brown said. “It happens. That’s another thing that we’ve got to add to the list of practicing on and perfecting.”
Hornets’ guard Dre Lawrence got the rebound and quickly pushed it up the floor.
“I opted not to call timeout,” said Hawthorne coach Greg Bowie. “I wanted to catch them in transition. We had a look right at the rim and it kind of rimmed out.”
Yarnell McCray’s potential game-winning shot was just off the mark.
McCray and senior Johnquavis Jones each scored 16 to lead the Hornets, who are ranked eighth in the state in Class 1A by MaxPreps.
C.J. Ingram, the son of Hornets’ football and girls basketball coach Cornelius Ingram, scored 13.
“We started out pretty good, but they had a 25-point second quarter,” said Hawthorne coach Greg Bowie. “What you want at the end of the game is a chance to win it and we had that.”
Brown said his team learned how to overcome adversity.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy coming in,” he said. “They came out lighting it up, as we expected, but we just dug down and came together and played Eastside basketball.”
The Hornets led for almost all of the first half until Eastside took its first lead on a basket by Qua Brodus to make it 31-30 Rams with a minute left in the half.
Eastside led by only two, 45-43, heading into the final quarter. Hawthorne outscored Eastside, 18-17, in the final quarter but came up just one point short.
Bowie had mixed emotions after the game.
“It’s a rivalry game so you always want to win,” he said. “But I’m definitely pleased with the effort. We played hard the entire game. We just came up short.”
Last year the Hornets lost at Eastside, 43-38, but went on to win the Class 1A state title, the Hornets’ first in boys’ basketball since 1987.
The game against the Rams served as a good test for the defending state champions.
“We played with a lot of effort and a lot of grit,” said Bowie, whose team will close out the regular season at home against P.K. Yonge on Tuesday night. “That’s an excellent basketball club over there.
Eastside will travel to Gainesville next Friday, Feb. 5. The game will be broadcast on 106.9 FM “I am Country.”
At Gainesville High, the Buchholz basketball team ended a 12-game losing streak against the rival Hurricanes with a 65-61 win at the Purple Palace.
Jhett Hill and Ryan Webster led the Bobcats (6-8) with 12 points. It was Buchholz’s first win in the series since 2014.
GHS, which dropped to 7-8, will host Vanguard (Ocala) tonight at 7:30 p.m.
In other basketball action, Santa Fe grabbed an 89-71 victory over Bradford (Starke) at Alachua Santa Fe High.
The Raiders led most of the game, taking a 24-17 to begin the second quarter, then carrying a 41-36 lead into the half and 66-52 into the fourth quarter.
Bradford resumes action at home Monday against Gainesville, while Santa Fe hosts Gainesville on Tuesday.
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