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Gryphons finally top Wildcats

Turnovers and fouls help Sickles pull away in overtime to defeat Wharton 77-71.

By EMILY NIPPS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 27, 2002

Bit by bit, Sickles finally rid itself of a pesky birthmark.

Since Wharton (16-8) and Sickles (7-12) opened five years ago, the Gryphons had never beaten the Wildcats. Saturday night at the Times North of Tampa Festival, Sickles battled through overtime to defeat Wharton 77-71.

"Hats off to us," Sickles coach Derrick Gaines said. "The monkey's off our backs."

The game was intense from the beginning as neither team established a lead of more than a few points. At one point in the first half, the Gryphons and Wildcats shared a streak of five consecutive 3-pointers. The teams exchanged the lead three times in the final minutes of the fourth period before tying at 68.

Wharton guard Marlon Maxwell made one last run toward the basket with four seconds left, but the Gryphons' defense built a wall around him to preserve the tie.

In overtime, Sickles had a 72-71 lead when guard Jose Rodriquez (14 points) stole the ball from Wharton and scored, then capitalized with a three-point play when he was fouled. Another Wharton foul allowed Karl Powell to score from the line, and the Wildcats ran out of time to recover.

"It feels great to finally beat them," Rodriquez said.

"I thought my (steal and layup) was a crucial shot."

It was a heartbreaking loss for the Wildcats, who were led by senior guard Maurice Johnson's 21 points and five 3-pointers. Johnson also recorded five steals.

Wharton's Matt Hardy scored 19 points, and Curtis Taylor had 12.

Sickles' biggest strength was its balance, as center Steve Cotton and forward Karl Powell each scored 19. Guard Phillips Williams had 11 points, including three 3-pointers. "I really thought we matched up well with Wharton," Gaines said.

"Tonight, we felt like our talent was just as good, if not better than theirs.

"This is a good feeling, to win a game this close. Half of our losses this season have been in games like this."

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