Foul trouble and a tough night shooting the basketball struck Gatewood at the most inopportune of moments as the Gators fell 55-49 to Deerfield-Windsor in the GISA Class AAA boys championship game Saturday at Hawkins Arena.
“We had our chances,” Gatewood head coach Buster Douglas said. “When you miss the ‘chippys,’ bad things are usually going to happen.”
Everything went to plan early for Gatewood. The Gators started the contest on an 8-2 run and led by as much as seven with half of the opening quarter gone, only to see Deerfield end the quarter on an 8-0 spurt of its own to take the lead.
Worse for Gatewood, standout guard Marcus Ford was forced to the bench early with foul trouble after leading the Gators with a game-high 27 points in their semifinal matchup. He sat for the entirety of the second quarter as Deerfield took a three-point lead to the break.
“(Ford) had two fouls in the first quarter and we knew how valuable he is to our team, so we didn’t want him picking up that third foul in the first half,” Douglas said. “As long as the game stayed about two or four points, we felt pretty comfortable with that.”
The two teams swapped the lead back-and-forth in the third before Deerfield’s Ryan Toole knocked down a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Knights a five point lead. Deerfield was just 2-of-16 from beyond the arc to that point.
Gatewood was having trouble shooting the basketball, as well. The Gators started the fourth quarter 0-for-12 from the floor and went scoreless for the first 5:55 of the quarter. Deerfield’s lead ballooned to eight with two minutes to play.
Two quick buckets by Ford with a little more than a minute to go brought the Gators back within four, but he fouled out with 15 points just seconds later on a charging call. Gatewood didn’t come any closer, as a desperation 3-pointer fell short with 10 seconds to play.
Deerfield’s free-throw shooting proved to be the difference. The Knights converted 8-of-10 free throws to begin the fourth quarter and 16-of-28 in the game. Gatewood went to the line just nine times total.
“They hit their foul shots,” Douglas said. “We fouled them, and they hit them. That was the big thing.”
Deerfield started the season 2-5 but won 19 of its final 20 contests on the way to the title.
Gatewood saw its season end at 28-3.
“These kids busted their butt,” Douglas said. “They never quit until that buzzer went off, and they kept fighting. That’s the kind of team you want to coach.”