The Gainesville Leopards came out on the wrong end of several close games this season, but recently, they have emerged with some clutch victories.
On Friday, Jan. 5, the Leopards trailed by double digits in the fourth quarter to Community, but their defense bowed up and sophomore Tre Lawson came up big in the waning seconds.
Lawson hit the go-ahead layup with nine seconds remaining and the game-winning block on the defensive end to preserve the 79-78 victory.
Gainesville head coach Jeff Wolf acknowledged that his team has figured out how to win the close games.
“Community went up maybe as much as 14 in the fourth quarter and another thing that helped us big time too, was we made a lot of free throws,” Wolf said. “ A lot depends who you get to the line. I just think that the kids didn't want to give up and we got down a little bit in the fourth quarter and the kids just responded.”
The Leopards began pressing in the fourth quarter and that led to turnovers and easy buckets for them.
Lawson led the team with 29 points.
Wolf said Lawson has been crucial to the team’s success this season and said he is capable of much more.
“I mean he's definitely important to all programs in the entire school and not just basketball,” Wolf said. “He has an opportunity to do big things in the future if he's able to continue to develop and work hard. He can be a Division I player in whatever sport he chooses. You always want to have the best case scenarios if your best player can lead in the right way. He's obviously still developing as a sophomore, just being 16 years old.”
With the Leopards yielding 78 points, Wolf said the team needs to improve its defense.
“It was a fast-paced game,” Wolf said. “They pressed us as well. We shot the ball decently again and they shot the ball pretty well. You just have to go with the rhythm and basketball is a rhythm sport.”
Traylen Shinault added 21 points and Wolf credited him with boosting the fourth-quarter comeback.
“I was most proud of the guys that didn't quit and we worked together to come back,” Wolf said. “Traylen was a big piece of it. He had at least four or five threes, including several in the fourth quarter, that were key down the stretch to put us back in the game. Draylon Franklin fouled out but he also had double-digit points in the first half and had a double-double with points and rebounds.”
Franklin had 17 points despite fouling out.
The Leopards will begin district play on Friday, Jan. 11 against Aubrey. Wolf has been hard at work preparing for Aubrey, watching hours of game film on them.
From his preparation, he noticed that Aubrey shot the ball well from outside and will run a half-court trap.
“I've been watching a lot of them and they have a really good 1-3-1 half-court trap and they have several shooters,” Wolf said. “They graduated a lot last year but they’re a good team. You know we're gonna have to play good to be able to beat them.”
Wolf said beginning district with a win can do wonders for the team’s confidence.
“It gives you momentum both ways,” Wolf said. “You get a little bit more confidence. The biggest thing at the end of the day is we have to stick to the game plan and work together, so the kids will be prepared.”
Patrick Hayslip can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @PatrickHayslip