ST. PETERSBURG — Gibbs coach Chadrick Johnson thought the best strategy Thursday night was to just sit on the bench and not show any signs of nervousness.
His Gladiators (20-6) started the region quarterfinals with homecourt advantage over East Lake (13-13) and definitely had the edge in the win-loss column. But in a 51-35 victory over the Eagles, there were times when Gibbs struggled.
"It's a new experience for these guys," Johnson said. "Anytime you step into the playoff system, whether you're in college or the pros, it's nerve-wracking. We got an (East Lake) team that came in here loose and fully confident. It just took a while for us to get going."
The Gladiators jumped out to a 13-5 lead in the first quarter as the Eagles went 1-for-8 from the foul line.
Gibbs then led 21-13 at halftime and appeared to be holding on, but that's when East Lake went on an 11-3 run to start the third quarter and tied the game 24-24.
"When (East Lake) tied it up we recognized the urgency," Johnson said. "My thing was to try to stay as calm as possible. That's why I tried to sit down as much as possible. I didn't want to get up and appear I was antsy because I already knew they were kind of antsy."
After the tie, the Gladiators regained their composure and outscored the Eagles 27-11. In the end, nine Gibbs players scored, but no one reached double figures. Ke'Owen Walker and Ryan Williams had eight points apiece.
East Lake was led by Max Klein with 17 points. The Eagles finished 6-for-20 from the foul line.