ST. PETERSBURG — After losing to Northeast in the semifinals of a tournament last week, Gibbs coach Larry Murphy implored his team to play better defense.
The Gladiators listened, holding the Vikings to 15 points in the first half of Friday's rematch.
Trouble was, Gibbs' usually high-scoring offense managed just 11.
"We did a better job on defense, but we couldn't score," Murphy said.
"Northeast was making every hustle. They were getting loose balls and getting every rebound."
So Murphy asked his team to do something else: pick up the pace.
Playing at a faster pace, the Gladiators rallied with a big third quarter to win 45-39 in a Class 5A, District 12 game.
"The game was just too slow in the first half," Murphy said. "We needed to play faster, and that helped us out."
Staying aggressive on defense, Gibbs (11-4) forced turnovers and turned them into layups at the start of the second half. The turning point came with the score tied at 21.
The Vikings' Andres Sanchez missed a layup. The Gladiators grabbed the rebound and went ahead on a field goal by Quincy Ford. On Gibbs' next possession, Marquel Walton hit a 3-pointer to make it 26-21.
The Gladiators outscored Northeast 23-12 in the third quarter to go up 34-27.
Northeast (6-10) stayed in the game by relying on Sanchez, who finished with a team-high 24 points. Midway through the fourth, the Vikings had cut the score to 38-34.
But Northeast could not get any closer. Missed shots and free throws plagued the Vikings down the stretch. They missed two inside shots in the final two minutes and were 4-of-12 from the line.
Ford finished with 16 points and Gary Simon added 15 to lead Gibbs. Sanchez was the only Viking to reach double figures in scoring.
It was a tough week for Northeast, which lost three straight after reaching the final of their tournament the week before.