Gainesville didn’t shock the world Friday night but the Cardinals sure put a scare into the powerful Patriot Pioneers.
The up-and-coming second-year boys basketball program got first-place Patriot’s attention by cutting a 22-point deficit to three before Patriot escaped with a 68-60 win.
“You can't be mad when you win, but you can be upset at how you win,” said Patriot coach Sherman Rivers. “I think they scored 32 points in the fourth quarter. That is insane.”
The win reaffirmed the status quo in the Cedar Run District as the five-defending champion Pioneers remained in control at 10-0 and 14-2 overall, with the Cardinals (6-4, 13-5) in third behind impressive second-place Battlefield (9-1, 17-1).
Patriot beat Gainesville by building a monster lead -- using its bevy of returning stars from last year’s Class 6 state semifinal squad that finished 26-1.
Featuring three seniors and two juniors in the starting lineup, the Pioneers are a mature and talented squad. They have reliable outside shooters, are athletic, have decent size and are battle-tested.
“I think from a roster standpoint, we are poised to play deep into the playoffs,” Rivers said. “You’ve got to look at us as being one of the people that is expected to get there, but expectations can get you in trouble if you don't meet them with some substance.”
The point guard is 5-foot-9 senior Nasir Coleman, a playmaker with the ability to both score and pass. Coleman has multiple double-doubles so far this season.
“When he is slashing, getting into the paint, and creating for guys, he is extremely good. Probably the best, not probably, he is the best point guard that there is in the state, I think, when he is playing at that type of level,” Rivers said.
Senior Jay Randall, a 6-3 forward, is Patriot’s most versatile player as he can defend anyone on the court and has been “shooting the cover off of it from three,” said Rivers.
Guard Kaden Bates, a 6-3 senior, is having a breakout year. He’s been a deadeye shooter and a good defender with quick hands. Bates has been “one of our, if not our best players for a lot of our games this season.”
Dezmond Hopkins, a 5-11 junior guard, and Isaiah Vick, a 6-5 junior forward, round out the starting lineup. Hopkins is described as a pure scorer who can score at all three levels while Vick boasts the potential to become a fantastic wing at the college level.
“Offensively, he is extremely gifted,” Rivers said of Hopkins. “Isaiah, his best days are once he’s going to be gone from here. Every day he gets better, I think he had the best offseason of any guy that we have.”
So far, so good
A year after losing to Battlefield 55-54 in the state semifinals, the Pioneers have resumed their spectacular play.
They’ve lost twice early in the season by two points, falling to defending Class 6 state champion Hayfield 75-73 and Middletown (Delaware) 68-66. Moving into the district season they’ve been perfect, which includes a 74-62 win over archrival Battlefield on Jan. 13.
Patriot and Battlefield met an astounding five times last season, with Patriot winning the first four. Patriot won twice in the regular season, and later beat Battlefield for the region title. Their final meeting in the state semis was an instant classic. Played at Patriot, Battlefield came from behind to win 55-54, then lost to Hayfield in the state championship.
Against Gainesville, Patriot showcased why they are so dominant. After leading 19-13 after the first quarter, the Pioneers took charge in building a 50-28 lead.
Halfway through the fourth came the Cardinals’ avalanche. The Cardinals made six 3-pointers and scored 32 points, cutting Patriot’s lead to 63-60 with just over a minute left.
Patriot made 10 of 16 free throw attempts to win 68-60.
“I know that Gainesville’s going to come away from this feeling a certain type of way of confidence because of the way they played in the fourth quarter, which is all well and good,” Rivers said. “But at the end of the day, we know that we're at a certain level that they're trying to get to.”
Rivers says his team can improve.
“We have still yet to play a full game, which is crazy to say when you have a team averaging 71 and giving up 50. But it'd be nice if we could see it sometime soon, I'll tell you that,” Rivers said.
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