ST. PETERSBURG — Tarpon Springs had stretched its season deeper into the winter than any other boys basketball team at the school in more than a decade.
But at the end, when the Spongers seemed on the brink of winning their first playoff game since 1947, they ran into a Gibbs team that was deeper, taller and displayed a greater sense of resourcefulness.
The Gladiators overcame their own inconsistencies in the third quarter Thursday and withstood a rally to win 61-48 in the Class 5A region quarterfinals.
“I think our transition game wasn’t as strong as it could have been,” Gladiators coach Larry Murphy said. “And we were missing some shots. That allowed Tarpon Springs to get back into the game in the third quarter. But we were able to fight through that.”
Gibbs (21-7) won with a mature single-mindedness that allowed it to follow potentially costly errors with decisive plays. The Gladiators scored 22 in the first quarter and built a 31-20 lead at the half.
But Gibbs went on a scoring drought at the start of the third quarter and watched as the Spongers cut the deficit to 39-37.
Tarpon Springs could never get any closer. The Gladiators’ Gary Simon used his quickness to force turnovers. Teammate Quincy Ford kept driving to the lane. And when Ford was not scoring inside, Devante Miley was there to hit a shot from the perimeter.
The Gladiators went into the fourth quarter leading 43-34. They kept the pressure on by getting to the line. The main benefactor was Ford, who finished with a team-high 19 points, including 12-of-16 in free throws.
Miley and Simon each finished with 13 points.
“I thought we matched up well with Tarpon size-wise and we were able to keep them off the offensive boards,” sad Murphy, whose team beat the Spongers for the third time this season.
Tarpon Springs’ C.J. Bargman scored a team-high 15 .
“I thought we had a great defensive plan and kept them from scoring a ton,” Spongers coach James Margarella said. “We got back into the game, but we were just too sloppy on offense.”