ST. PETERSBURG — As the final buzzer sounded Saturday night, Gibbs’ Quincy Ford grabbed the basketball and hurled it toward the rafters, setting off a raucous celebration as the frenzied crowd erupted and spilled onto the court.
The Gladiators got off a quick start and held on to beat Chamberlain 53-44 in the Class 5A boys basketball region final. Gibbs advances to the state final four for the first time since 1990. The Gladiators will face Lake Wales on Friday night.
“We’ve waited for this the whole season,” Gibbs guard Gary Simon said. “This is big for everyone at the school. We’ve worked to get to the state tournament.”
In the first half, the Gladiators played with the kind of crowd-pleasing style that was reminiscent of the school’s teams that made back-to-back state semifinal appearances in 1989 and ’90.
All five starters showed speed, daring unselfishness, creativity and defense as Gibbs built a commanding lead. The first half was highlighted by an alley-oop pass that Ford dunked and was culminated by a 3-point shot that Devante Miley swished as time expired to put the Gladiators ahead 33-16.
“We knew what kind of team Chamberlain had, and it was big to get up on them early,” said Ford, who finished with 22 points, including 16 in the first half.
The second half was more of the same, at least early. Gibbs led 41-22 late in the third quarter.
Finally, Chiefs coach Christopher Snyder called a timeout. “There were about eight minutes left, and I told the guys this is it,” he said. “It was sell-out time.”
The Chiefs had rallied from seven down in the fourth to beat Sickles in a region quarterfinal.
Chamberlain emerged from another hole against the complacent Gladiators as Eric Storts, who finished with 22 points, kept scoring on short jumpers and layups during a 21-4 run to cut it to 45-43.
But Chamberlain did not get any closer. Ford hit a layup, drew a foul and completed the three-point play. Seconds later, Simon hit both free throws for a 50-43 lead.
“We talk all the time about getting up on teams early,” Gibbs coach Larry Murphy said. “And I also told them that good teams go on runs, and that’s what Chamberlain did. We did a good job of weathering that run and closing it out.”