Wild games leave Gators fans gasping

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 4, 2005

Vicksburg’s Edwin Gaskin (23) battles with Hinds AHS player Joseph White for a rebound during the Gators’ win last Monday in the Raymond Holiday Tournament. (Jon Giffin The Vicksburg Post)

[1/3/05] Maybe the Vicksburg Gators just like a challenge. Or perhaps they’re just not good at holding leads.

It might have something to do with their lack of an inside game, a tendency to slack off and lose focus in the second half, or that they’ve just been on an even level with their opponents lately.

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Whatever the reason, the Gators’ season has taken an unexpected turn over the last month that is either preparing them for the tough task of winning in the playoffs or serving as a harbinger of another early exit.

Starting with a 56-49 win over Jefferson County on Nov. 22, the Gators have played only two games decided by more than seven points. Of the 13 games in that span, eight have been decided in overtime or the last 15 seconds of regulation.

“It’s crazy,” VHS senior guard Sederick Williams said. “I think when we get a lead, we let up a little bit and then try to get back in it. You’ve got to stay in it the whole way.”

Whether the Gators will eventually benefit from all of the dramatic finishes is tough to tell. They’re 7-6 since the Jefferson County game, with a 16-point loss to Clinton and a 16-point win over Raymond mixed in. They’ve also lost a pair of division games at home.

The nearly-.500 record seems fitting for a team whose games can go either way on any given night. Yet while the Gators are sure to be confident in any close games they find themselves in come February, it’s easy to see how one misstep in those same games can end their season in the first round of the division tournament for the second straight year.

Robinson was counting on the experience his team is gaining now, as well as homecourt advantage for the Division 6-5A Tournament Feb. 15-18, to avoid that fate.

“That’s what we’re banking on with all these close ballgames. We’ll be in our home gym and all the games are going to be close,” Robinson said. “One thing we understand now is how to play these close ballgames.

“We’ve lost some, we’re going to win some, and I certainly think that’s going to help us coming down the stretch in January and February.”

The latest close call came Wednesday, when Vicksburg beat Ridgeland 57-55 in overtime. The way the game unfolded was like looking at a snapshot of Gator basketball for the last six weeks.

VHS jumped out to a double-digit lead in the first half as it has done six times in the last 13 games and led by 16 points at halftime. Poor shooting and foul trouble allowed Ridgeland to get back in the game, though, and the Titans tied it at 48-48 with 3 minutes to go.

Robinson said the foul trouble showed why so many games have been close. Edwin Gaskin and Brandon Harper, two of the team’s leading rebounders despite their lack of size, both played most of the second half with three or four fouls and ended up fouling out in overtime.

With the Gators’ big men wary of being disqualified any earlier, Ridgeland was able to pound the ball inside to forward Karlin Givens, who scored a game-high 24 points.

“Probably the biggest cause of it is a lack of inside play,” said Robinson, who has a number of players taller than 6 feet but few with the weight to fight with beefier opponents inside. “We’re struggling inside right now, and when those shots aren’t falling we’re struggling.”

At the end of regulation, the Gators missed two shots in the last 10 seconds that would have won it. But Williams hit two free throws with 2 seconds remaining in overtime to give Vicksburg the win.

Some players might have been nervous about being put in that situation. For Williams, it’s becoming routine. It was the fourth time this season he has stepped to the line in the closing seconds and saved Vicksburg’s bacon.

In fact, it wasn’t even Williams’ closest brush with the buzzer his free throw with one second to play gave VHS a 59-58 win over Port Gibson on Nov. 30. Williams also clinched wins over Madison Central and Warren Central with late free throws.

“I’m used to it by now,” Williams said. “If I miss it, I miss it. But I’m sure I’m going to hit it.”