There’s no place like home.
Gainesville High played five of its first six games on the road, but on Tuesday night the Hurricanes returned to the Purple Palace to face rival Vanguard (Ocala).
Junior Theo Stephens scored a season-high 23 points as GHS pulled away in the second half for a 66-52 win against the Knights.
“We were able to score the ball tonight more than we really have all season,” said first-year Gainesville coach Mike Barnes. “Being at home and being comfortable, we know the angles around the basket and we were really able to take advantage of Vanguard’s defense in getting shots around the basket. I was really proud of the guys about that.”
GHS (5-2) only led 31-25 at the half. However, the Hurricanes started the second half on a 10-0 run to build a 16-point lead, its largest lead of the game.
That prompted Vanguard coach Todd Davis to make substitutions, leading to an 11-0 run by the Knights (2-5). Junior Rickey Harrell provided the biggest spark with six quick points off the bench in the third quarter.
“That second group of his really brought a lot of energy and kind of matched us and made it a ballgame again and they made it a little closer than I would have liked,” Barnes said. “Our guys don’t ever seem to worry about anything. Unlike me, they seem to think things are always under control, so that’s a credit to them for keeping a level head.”
The Hurricanes got things under control thanks to Stephens and junior S.J. Westbrook, who scored six of his 15 points in the third quarter.
But Westbrook affected the game in more ways than one in the third.
“Defensively he just has so much energy,” Barnes said.
Stephens had scored 19 points in four of his five games played this year, but after scoring 19 through the first three quarters he added four points in the fourth quarter to reach his highest output of the season.
“He’s just really great around the basket,” Barnes said. “He’s got a nose for the basketball. He’s really good at working those angles off the backboard and he’s really coming into his own. He’s a stud player and colleges need to be on the lookout for him.”
Senior Lionel Manning had a team-high 11 points for Vanguard, which will host Belleview on Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
Gainesville, which also got eight points off the bench from sophomore Brendan Bloodworth, will travel to Newberry on Thursday at 7:30 p.m.