The Ocala Forest Wildcats boys’ basketball team visited the Gainesville Hurricanes on Tuesday night in what started off as a game that will end in an unbalanced victory for the Hurricanes.
After trailing up to 13 points in the first half, the Wildcats (7-4) fought to get back into the game and left Gainesville with a 55-51 win, toppling the Hurricanes (5-5) just before the holidays.
“It was a tough start,” Forest head coach Mike Hoffman said. “But we still fight. It’s one thing we always do, is not to give up. We always fight throughout the fight.”
The blows fall early for Gainesville
The Hurricanes rocked the Purple Palace early behind a 9-0 run with a pair of free throws from junior SJ Westbrook, two field goals and a three-ball drop from junior Theo Stephens.
Gainesville’s early push continued into the second quarter as Westbrook and RJ Hines senior continued to find the rim from below.
Meanwhile, Stephens knocked down a three-ball to take the Hurricanes’ lead to 13 midway through the second quarter.
Stephens and Westbrook led the way in Gainesville with 13 points apiece, while junior Vontrell Hankison also finished in double digits after a 10-point performance.
Naylan Rhem’s hot hand triggers the Wildcats
At the end of half-time, Forest was led by eight points on Gainesville.
However, this deficit will not last as Forest junior Naylan Rhem has started to find his rhythm.
Rhem opened the second half of the scoring with three straight hits to reduce the Wildcats’ hole to two points.
But it wasn’t long before Rhem erased the Hurricanes’ lead completely with a slam dunk that got the gym back on its feet.
“It’s a long project for us,” Hoffman said of Rhem, who came to Forest after being homeschooled. “It’s amazing the progress he’s made. He’s never played varsity ball before, never really played in high school… He really took off. And his shot today was huge. . “
Rhem finished the night with 20 points leading the team, which included four shots from beyond the arc and a pair of dunks.
Meanwhile, senior Calvin Davison scored four threes en route to a 15-point night.
“The three-point shot and the spread from the ground was huge for us,” Hoffman said.
The forest rallies to the defense in the home stretch
Tied at 38 before the last quarter, the Wildcats and Hurricanes fought for the lead as the game ended.
And while the scoreboard shows Gainesville four points behind on the final whistle, what the score doesn’t show is how the Hurricanes struggled to generate an organized attack.
The Wildcats moved on to man-to-man defense in a final push to sideline the game.
“We love to go man and we love to pick up,” Hoffman said. “We have a few guys who can really do it. It’s just tough. We only play seven guys and we just can’t support that the whole game. But when we need it, we can pull it out of the bag. “
Forest senior Tayvion Jones had a quiet, but extremely impactful night for the Wildcats after spending much of the game guarding Gainesville junior Seth Childers, who leads the Hurricanes’ offense.
“Overall we just played a good, solid man’s defense at the end,” Hoffman said. “It helped us a lot. They couldn’t do anything at the end offensively because we got more intensity in the men.”
After a brief break for the holidays, Forest and Gainesville get back to work on December 27.
The Wildcats and Hurricanes will compete in the Mosley Holiday Shootout in Panama City, which will feature teams from across the state and a few out-of-state programs.