TAMPA — When guard Shaquille Speights broke his right hand in January, he thought his season was over. And some felt the same about Gibbs’ state championship hopes.
But Thursday night, Speights made his return and, like the Gladiators, is far from done.
Riding a strong defensive effort in the second half, Gibbs broke open a game that was deadlocked at halftime and cruised to a 60-45 win over defending state champion Jesuit in a Class 5A region quarterfinal.
Gibbs (18-8) opened the second half scoring the first nine points en route to an 18-4 run. It turned the Tigers (18-9) over by jumping passing lanes and being patient against a trapping 2-3 zone, producing easy baskets in opening a 49-31 lead.
“We talked (at halftime) about trying to speed the game up,” Gibbs coach Larry Murphy said. “We went to a different type of press in the second half to try and create a little more tempo.”
Defensively, Gibbs held the vaunted long-range attack of the Tigers to 2-of-10 on 3-pointers in the second half, and the two Kyle Sahlsten made were from at least 25 feet.
The Tigers weren’t as sharp shooting it and rarely got an uncontested look.
“Coach told us all week they attempt at least 30 3s a game and we needed to cut that down to 15 a game,” said Gibbs’ Barry Brown, who led all scorers with 22. “Then he told us we needed to make those 15 3s contested 3s.”
Enter Speights. Without him, Gibbs went 4-6. Thursday, his job was to shut down Christian Whidden, the Tigers’ leading scorer.
Whidden had made 81 3-pointers — including 27 over the past four games — but was held without one for just the third time this season. Speights covered him man to man all game.
“My favorite thing to do is play defense, so I wanted to lock him up,” Speights said.
Sahlsten led the Tigers with 11 points. Gibbs got 15 points from Antonio Walker.