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Gulf almost lets it get away

By JAMAL THALJI, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 8, 2003

NEW PORT RICHEY -- Both teams needed a win. Hudson needed more time.

Which is why host Gulf held onto a 56-53 Class 4A, District 8 victory over its west Pasco County rival Tuesday night.

The Bucs were looking to reach .500; the Cobras wanted to surpass that. Gulf had to stave off a last-minute charge and a last-second shot despite holding a comfortable advantage through two-and-a-half quarters.

"It would go to whichever team was hungrier," Bucs coach Steve Feldman said. "That's what I told the kids at halftime."

The Cobras were the hungrier team in the final minutes and had a shot at tying in the final seconds, but not the shot they wanted.

Travis Thomas's offensive rebound and putback cut Gulf's lead to three with 36 seconds left. Then, after a Hudson turnover, Mo Maisonet gave the Cobras one more shot with a huge block under the Bucs' basket.

Hudson hadn't sunk a 3-pointer in the game, but Casel drew up a screen-and-roll to get one of his best long-range options free in the last 15 seconds.

But Gulf switched defenses, going from man to a 3-2 zone, and that befuddled Hudson on the perimeter.

Those last seconds ticked off as the Cobras futilely struggled to find an open look. Hudson's last shot was an awkward attempt high off the glass by Mark Baker as the buzzer sounded.

He got the foul on the play -- but then the officials waved the game over.

Their rationale: Hudson needed three foul shots to tie it, not two. There would have been no time left for even a tip-in, they reasoned, and no play could change the outcome.

"(The referee) kept saying 'You can't win, coach,' " Cobras coach Steve Casel said, "and I kept saying, 'No, we can.' "

Casel said he believed there was one second left on the clock when the foul was committed.

"I absolutely know there was time," he said. "The official called a foul on the play. We're down by three and there was a second left.

"Now (what) if we make both free throws, make a quick steal or even get a foul when the ball is in play? Even if there's just a second on the clock?

"He just waved it off. I have no clue (why)."

Feldman said his players, after a series of "boneheaded decisions" that let the lead slip, executed when it counted in those last frantic seconds.

"We just wanted to really make them think and use more of the clock," Feldman said, "and it really worked out in the end there."

Hudson (6-7, 4-3) is 2-4 since the break, while Gulf (7-7, 3-3) rebounded from Friday's loss at district leader Ridgewood.

For much of the game it was a battle of two decidedly different styles: Hudson's sizeable post game against Gulf's hot perimeter-shooting.

The Bucs' shooters won out, leading the team to a 14-point halftime lead. Joe Phillips scored five of his team-high 18 in the first quarter and six in the second. Calvin Cross had 15 points, 5 rebounds, 4 steals and 3 assists. C.J. McLeod had eight points and 11 rebounds.

But it was Justin Sconiers' seven points and two big 3-pointers -- one in the third and one in the fourth -- that kept Gulf alive late when sloppy play allowed Hudson to make a run at the lead. Phillips, Sconiers and Cross all sank two 3-pointers apiece.

The Bucs let a 14-point halftime lead slip away midway through the third quarter. The double-digit advantage evaporated after Gulf was caught on the wrong end of a 6-1 run in the last three minutes. The Cobras cut into the lead thanks to 15 points from Maisonet, 14 from Baker and 13 from Louis Geckas.

"Nothing's going to come easy for us," Feldman said, "and we certainly made this one tough."

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