Beckham's Canes come close in Tampa Hoops Classic

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By Jenna McKenna

Former Bronson basketball head coach Kelly Beckham took his Gainesville Hurricanes to the Tampa Hoops Classic last week, beating Oak Ridge (Tenn.) 64-49 and Thomas Jefferson (Brooklyn, N.Y.) 70-52 to ride the tournament bracket into the third round. At press time, the Canes were set to face Orlando Olympia in the semifinal, Olympia having beaten Tampa Berkeley Prep 69-64 and Clearwater 65-44.

In their first round game, the Canes got up early on Oak Ridge. Anthony Nwadigo nailed a three-pointer from the tipoff and Taylor Simmons had another three moments later. Gainesville got on the boards and took away second chances for the Wildcats. Down 10-4 early, Oak Ridge called a pair of timeouts to try to break the momentum, but the Canes kept the rhythm, as Greg Gantt took the dish from Matt Huber and drained yet another three.

Takeways from pressure defense gave Gainesville still more scoring opportunities. Just before the half, Nwadigo scored off the inbounds play, putting the Canes up 30-14. Oak Ridge put on a six-point burst to go to the break down 32-20.

The Wildcats continued that energy in the third quarter, as Tucker Trent made back-to-back threes to help bring Oak Ridge within five. But Gainesville surged again, as Gantt and Nwadigo led a 13-3 scoring run to reopen the lead to 48-33. Oak Ridge never came close again.

Defense was the key to breaking open the game in the third quarter, Beckham said.

“Once we shut down those three pointers, we were able to get a 20-point lead.”

The win over Jefferson was more contentious, although not at all the game Gainesville was expecting. From scouting earlier games, Beckham had seen Jefferson as an uptempo offensive team with a heavy trapping defense. Surprisingly, when the Orange Wave played Gainesville, the used a lot of half court sets on offense and zone defense.

“Maybe they were concerned with our ability to get to the basket,” Beckham observed.

“We wanted to play more uptempo, so thank goodness we were able to get it turned in our favor.”

Defense was the story of the Canes' success. As much as the Orange Wave tried to slow it down, the Canes turned steals into transition buckets. Gantt and Nwadigo led the early effort in scoring, and Rutledge's rebounding kept Gainesville in second chances. The Canes went to the half leading 29-25.

The Orange Wave went on an 8-2 run at the top of the third quarter and took over the lead at 33-31. Gaineville's Matt Huber stepped up with a monster three that let the teams trade leads and baskets for a moment. Then Gantt, fed by Huber and Nwadigo, went on an 11-point tear of his own, helping the Canes to a 45-39 lead they would never relinquish. Gainesville opened up the floor to run, and loaded up 16 unanswered fourth-quarter points.

“Our pressure defense caused some turnovers (in the third quarter),” Beckham said.

“At the same time, we picked up our full court game.”

Editor's Note: After print publication, further results became available. Gainesville lost to Orlando Olympia 73-63 in the semifinal. Greg Gantt injured his ankle in the loss and did not dress for the third place game against Cincinnati Princeton, which Gainesville lost 38-35. Beckham said later that he had held Gantt out of the third place game because he would be more needed in Saturday's appearance at Gaineseville Eastside's Dante Anderson Memorial Tournament when the Canes face Orlando Jones.