Junior R.J. Hines shoots for a free throw in the fourth quarter. Photo by Faith Buckley

Gainesville takes abrupt hit from Bradford

Players are swimming in their own sweat and stress as the game goes into overtime. Minutes dial down to seconds and the scoreboard still stands at 66 all. Each team is frustrated, tired and ready to take reign over the other.

Overtime conundrum

With both teams tied at 59, pressure tightens on the court. The tornadoes swoop up three points to open the four-minute overtime quarter and mixed reactions fill the space. Bradford fans blaze in excitement while the opposing bleachers sit without movement. It doesn’t phase the Canes. Once again, their determination screams.

Junior forward R.J. Hines strikes back with a two-point field goal to bring the game 61-62 Tornadoes. Freshman forward Kameren Wright soon after makes a stellar shot in center court for 66-64. All the adrenaline is on display, players playing with all their effort, yet it isn’t enough. The Tornadoes crush Gainesville with only a second left in overtime. The iconic basketball moment occurs: game is tied, clock is winding down, and a player successfully shoots the ball right as the buzzer goes off. The crowd screams in victory for the Tornadoes—perfect shot for the wrong team.

Great plays

Highlight upon highlight stacked up for Gainesville as the game progressed. Finishing the first quarter, the Canes led 19-11. Wright quickly opened the second with a shot attempt. While he missed, sophomore guard Saladeen Westbrook immediately recovered the ball for a two-point field goal. Wright came back with a two-point field goal soon after. He also scored a successful shot in the first 15 seconds of the fourth quarter. Watching Wright run across the court and take every shot he sees, fans see the passion bleed onto his jersey. Sophomore Guard Theo Stevens was a key player in the game, too. He had ball possession for an un-doubtingly large amount of time and made great passes. Stevens and senior center Cam Jones were a great passing duo as well.

Dropping the ball

Senior Justus Wilburn stands in anger after a foul play is called out. Photo by Faith Buckley

The team was shaky at times. There were incredible moments that sealed the game’s success, yet there were slip-ups to balance. Senior Justus Wilburn dropped the ball three times in the second quarter and missed great shooting opportunities because of so. Stevens did the same shortly after. Wright dropped the ball twice in the fourth. Because of so, Bradford had a lot of interceptions due to mindless mistakes.

In the fourth quarter, timeouts felt routine; every other play seemed like the precursor for yet another pause in the game. One came greatly in Canes’ favor. With 6.2 seconds left and a 59-59 tied game, the team reconvened to discuss strategy. They met back on the court with Branford having ball possession. The Hurricanes pulled through and blocked what would have been a killer shot. Their hunger shone once more.

Change in environment

The fans in this game were noticeably distinct. The Tornadoes had a lot of support on their side of the bleachers but that’s typical for a home game. The COVID-19 protocols were eye-catching, however. While there were mandatory mask signs posted around the gym, fans didn’t oblige. Friends, family and even cheerleaders were mask-less. A good number of Gainesville fans lacked one too.

A Bradford cheerleader sits comfortably on the bleachers without a mask. Photo by Faith Buckley

The game was lively for the Canes but as always, there is room for improvement.

Wilburn wants the team to work on their defense. “We should work on being able to attack different defenses. We were caught off guard sometimes by some of the stuff they were throwing at us. We got sped up and just working on controlling the pace of the game and knocking down a few of the shots here and there,” Wilburn said. He wasn’t fully satisfied with his own performance, either. He recognized his missed shots and is looking forward to the next game.

Gainesville goes up against the Belleview Rattlers in Belleview at 6.pm. Tuesday.

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