GAINESVILLE — Gainesville coach Chuck Graham knew his team needed a fast start against a tired Winder-Barrow team on Friday in the semifinals of the Region 8-6A tournament.
The Red Elephants (12-13, Region 8-6A No. 2 seed) granted Graham's wish with a 16-4 opening quarter blitz which set the tone in a 71-38 blowout win over the Bulldoggs to advance to the region title game on Saturday at home.
It was a complete opposite performance this time than the Jan. 28 meeting between the two region foes where Gainesville trailed most of the game but pulled it out late in the fourth quarter to win, 53-47.
"I really thought our energy was unbelievable to start the game," Graham said. "It was real important for us to get a start like that because we knew they had a tough overtime game last night (Thursday). It was really important for us to kind of set the tone early, and I thought I guys did a good job of that in the first three minutes of the game."
The Red Elephants' defense was tough to crack, anchored by Robert Reisman with a double-double performance (18 points and 10 rebounds), Donsha Gaither and a scrappy Dee Buffington in the first quarter, Gainesville forced seven turnovers en route to a 12-point lead.
The relentless effort was duplicated in the second quarter as Gainesville held the Bulldogs to 13 points, including Gaither converting a 3-point play to give the Red Elephants their largest lead of the half, 31-13, with 3:55 to go. Gainesville led 34-17 at the break.
Reisman led Gainesville on a 5-0 spurt to open the second half, hitting a 3-pointer from the wing and sinking a two-point bucket with 5:47 left in the third to push the lead to 20 points, 52-32.
"He just keeps getting better and better," Graham said. "Even at the end of the game when they were making their mini runs, he would either make a great pass, pull up and hit a three or hit a mid-range jump shot. I thought his effort on defense, especially on the boards, was high level."
Gainesville out rebounded Winder, 39-25, with Reisman grabbing 10, Walt Dixon pulling down 7 and Ced Nicely pulling 6 boards.
Graham said his team's energy and scoring ability this time against Winder-Barrow is what allowed them to blow open the game.
"I thought our defensive effort and energy really helped us push the score up," Graham said. "The last time we played them, we only scored 53 points. I thought our defense was great, but when you add energy, and we're making shots, we look a little bit better."
Indeed they did, wearing down Winder-Barrow in the final period while outscoring them 24-6.
Dee Buffington added 12 points and a solid defensive effort in the win, while Gaither, Nicely and Dixon added 9 points each.
The Red Elephants will play the winner of the Dacula/Lanier game on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Graham says it doesn't matter who they play but knows it will be another dog fight for his team.
"Right now we just have to focus on us," he said. "If we can come in and be prepared mentally, because this time of the year, it's not so much about physical, it's about the mental aspect. Are you going to be able to come back tomorrow and play at a higher level and execute? I just feel confident that our guys will be ready to play. We'll take this win tonight, celebrate, learn from it and just keep moving forward."