Englewood got a taste of playoff basketball at home after nearly two decades away, but a postseason victory will have to wait.
Visiting Gainesville overwhelmed the Rams, taking the lead for good in the second quarter and then staying a step ahead the rest of the way in a 58-43 win in the Region 1-7A quarterfinals on Thursday night.
Englewood (17-10) had made the playoffs twice since 2004, both as a district runner-up, but hadn’t gone in as the district champ since 2000. With just two players set to graduate, the Rams are poised to shorten that playoff gap and will have the experience of Thursday’s grind against Gainesville to build off of.
That’s the positive for Englewood, which got pushed out of its game early and couldn’t atone for one of its worst offensive outputs of the season in front of a packed house that erupted on every pro-Rams play.
If this season was fun and seemingly came out of nowhere, a 2018 with actual expectations attached to it will be even better. Devonte Render and Loro Natana had 13 and 12 points, respectively, for Englewood.
“They beat us on the boards,” said Rams coach Jerry Battle. “And I think late, we started getting a little scared. [Gainesville] has been here before and we haven’t. That’s experience. That’s what I told my kids. I’m proud of my kids. Bringing it back [the playoffs] after 17 years.”
The Rams were on the verge of getting rolled over most of the second half until 7-0 spurt between the third and fourth quarters pulled Englewood to within 40-33 with six minutes to play. But as it did all night, Gainesville countered in bunches, with baskets and free throws and tough defense mixed in. The Rams were empty on their next four trips down the court and were forced to try and play catch up by 3-pointer the rest of the way.
“We take this as motivation,” said guard Dale Green Jr. “We’re building up our team, it’s full of juniors, sophomores and freshmen. This is a small step. We want to win a state championship. We’re really excited for what’s next.”
Gainesville (25-3) took Englewood out of its game early and kept its pressure defense and physical interior game by Isaiah Wilson up all night long. It never allowed the Rams paint game to develop, and their shooting was erratic. The 43 points was Englewood’s second fewest of the season, and nearly matched by Gainesville’s duo of Wilson and Christian Miller-Cardwell, who combined for 39.
“I think we came out and set the tone on defense, didn’t give up a bunch of 3s,” said Gainesville coach Kelly Beckham. “Their fans were into it. It’s fun to come on the road in an environment like this and get it done.”