NEW PORT RICHEY — For about three quarters against Mitchell on Wednesday, Gulf did everything exactly how second-year coach Buck DeWitt drew it up.
A 3-2 zone kept the Mustangs from establishing any offensive rhythm. Gulf made several crisp passes that led to layups and uncontested jumpers. And most important, when the Buccaneers were open, they made most of their shots.
That helped them lead by 21 late in the third. Then it withstood a rally by the Mustangs to hold on for a 73-66 victory.
"We've got to learn how to win," DeWitt said. "We just got a little too excited. We've got to learn how to close things when we get down to the last couple minutes of the game."
Behind the shooting of Jordan Dong (5-for-13 on 3-pointers) and driving from Austin Sharpe (nine points, all in the second half), Mitchell (9-6) cut Gulf's lead to 14 by the end of the third.
The Mustangs pulled to within six on two free throws by Freddie Jones (eight points) with 1:30 left.
But a Gulf team that has just one senior and is sophomore- and freshman-dominated made enough plays down the stretch to stay in front.
"I give (Gulf) tons of credit. They had numerous guys knocking down shots," Mitchell coach Jared St. Charles said. "They're definitely a team that's coming along, and they'll be a team to watch out for in the district tournament."
Aaron Welsh answered two Mitchell fourth-quarter runs with 3-pointers. Chris Gregory (15 points) kept the Buccaneers humming with a layup while he was fouled with just less than six minutes left to keep the lead in double digits.
"That's what happens when you're pressing. That's what happens when you're down 15 at halftime. You've got to come out and try to do something different to get the team going," St. Charles said.
"When you're doing all that, though, you're out of position and they get easy shots. But they made them. If they're missing shots, we might come back and win."
Gulf (5-5) never trailed. It used an 11-2 run midway through the first quarter to establish control. Ron Blackwood, who led all scorers with 20 points, and Bruce Hector (11) found themselves open time and time again under the basket for easy looks.
Meanwhile, Mitchell struggled for the second game in a row without guard Jake Driscoll, the North Suncoast's leading scorer who has mono. The Mustangs scored just nine points in the first quarter and 10 in the second.
"This is probably the first game where I felt like offensively we really missed Jake because he's so good at being able to break teams down that play zone," St. Charles said.
Dong led Mitchell with 18 points while Troy Blyden and Tony Makdessi scored 12.