GAINESVILLE — It was a typical Lanier vs. Gainesville game -- an intense Region 8-6A dog fight with no love for each other.
But it was the Longhorns' (22-5, Region 8-6A No. 1 seed) stifling zone defense and big play out of Tulane-commit Sion James that propelled Lanier to a 68-57 win in the Region 8-6A championship game on Monday at Gainesville High.
"I thought they played well and made the adjustments to win the game," Gainesville coach Chuck Graham said. "I'm proud of my guys. I thought we fought. It's just those little spurts against that kind of team, you just can't have them."
James scored a game-high 26 points and grabbed 8 rebounds to lead the Longhorns.
"He's region player of the year for a reason," Graham said about James. "I thought he controlled the tempo, made the right passes, the right basketball plays and he made effort plays on defense that hurt us."
Gainesville (12-14, Region 8-6A No. 2 seed) gave up those "little spurts" several times in the game, and those came, most of the time, when the Red Elephants had clawed their way back into the game.
But it was a late third-quarter run that became the major turning point for the Longhorns.
Donsha Gaither hit two foul shots with 3:05 to go in the third quarter to tie the game, 43-43, and later, Walt Dixon scored a bucket to bring them back within one, 46-45.
Lanier then reeled off the next six points while holding Gainesville scoreless over the final 2 minutes of the quarter to take a 52-45 advantage.
"That definitely was the turning point in the game," Graham said. "I think if we can capitalize, execute, run our offense and just settle down ... I thought we got caught up in the game, and when you get caught up in the game, you lose your identity. So we had some guys make some plays that were uncharacteristic, and they capitalized on them."
Lanier continued its assault in the fourth quarter with James, Ryan Johnson, Andrew McConnell and Iajah Phillips pushing the Longhorns' lead to 15 points, 65-50, with 1:19 remaining -- the largest of the game -- and squashing any hopes of a comeback.
"When you play a good team, everything matters," Graham said. "Every possession matters in these championship basketball games."
For the second straight game, Gaither led the Red Elephants in scoring with 17 points, while Dee Buffington added 12, Dylan Bobga finished with 11, and Robert Reisman had 8.
Gainesville, a No. 2 seed, will play Region 6-6A No. 3 seed Sequoyah (23-5) at home either on Friday or Saturday. Sequoyah finished the regular season winning 16 straight but lost in the semifinals of the region tournament over the weekend. They beat Sprayberry in a close one, 78-72, on Monday in the consolation game.
"I love this time of the year," Graham said. "I know they won like 16 games in a row and play in a tough region, but our guys are battle-tested, and we're playing at home."