Both Santa Fe-Gainesville boys basketball games during the 2021-22 season were decided by single digits.
And on Thursday night at the Purple Palace, the two Alachua County rivals were in for another close one.
It was a one-point game with a little over a minute remaining but GHS outscored Santa Fe, 9-3, down the stretch for a 54-47 win at home.
“We knew it was going to be a tough battle,” said GHS coach Mike Barnes, who lost 6’6 senior Vontrell Hankison for 4-6 weeks to a broken bone in his right foot on Tuesday in the win at Vanguard (Ocala). “Their record doesn’t indicate how good of a team they are. They’ve had a lot of close games.”
GHS senior Theo Stephens, who scored a game-high 25 points, got fouled with 1:16 to play and went to the foul line for a one-and-one, with the Hurricanes clinging to a 45-44 lead.
Stephens missed the front end. However, he got the steal underneath the basket and made a layup for a 47-44 Hurricanes’ lead with 1:05 to play.
“He’s a special guy,” Barnes said. “He took it upon himself, he always wants to guard the other team’s best player, and I think that kind of fuels him. It gives him a challenge and then it kind of carries over offensively.”
That’s as close as the Raiders would come to victory.
“In the first half we weren’t locked in defensively,” said Santa Fe coach Glen Banks, whose team trailed double digits in the third quarter. “But in the second half we came out and we fought, and we played better defense.”
GHS made a handful of big plays late in the game.
Santa Fe (2-4) took a 44-43 lead with 3:23 to play on a 3-pointer by senior Jamil Watson, his only points of the game, but Gainesville’s Josh Hayes (10 points) followed in a Seth Childers miss for a 45-44 lead.
With 41 seconds left, Childers missed the second of two free throws but junior Anthony Leivonen got the rebound and put it back in for a 50-44 lead.
Gainesville led 14-9 at the end of the first quarter and extended the lead to six at the half, 28-22, thanks to a 3-pointer by Stephens from the top of the key with two seconds on the clock.
The Hurricanes (7-1) extended their lead to 33-23 on a Jordan Bodie 3-pointer in the third quarter.
However, Santa Fe chipped away and got back to within three points, 36-33, on a 3-pointer by junior Braylon Guyden (11 points) at the buzzer.
A dunk by Kyren Washington (8 points) with 4:24 to play tied the game at 41-41.
Santa Fe senior guard Dontrell Jenkins (team-high 13 points) picked up his fourth foul with 4:09 to play and Stephens, who was 5-for-7 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter, made two free throws for a 43-41 lead.
With a chance to tie, Washington missed two free throws with 3:51 to play.
“Offensively we didn’t make free throws, we missed some key rebounds down the stretch, we took 3s when we should have shot layups,” Banks said. “It was just bad decision making. But it’s early in the season and hopefully we learn from this stuff.”
The Raiders, who lost their previous two games by a combined four points, travel to Columbia (Lake City) tonight at 7:30 p.m.
“Our defensive effort in the second half is the way we want to play,” Banks said. “If we can get that going all game, we’ll be tough.”
Gainesville will travel to Fleming Island for the Battle on the Island.
The Hurricanes will play three games in three days and will face Class 2A power Orlando Christian Prep on Tuesday. OCP (6-1) is currently ranked 19th overall in Florida by MaxPreps.
“It’s a pretty stacked field,” Barnes said. “Very good competition. That’s what we signed up for. My goal this year was to face good competition around here as well as in the surrounding areas and we’re going to play some of the best teams in the state. We’re up for the challenge and the guys are excited for that challenge.”