The Salem boys varsity basketball team had a fearless look in its eye Wednesday night in the Region 8-AAAAA consolation final, routing Gainesville 67-50 to earn the region's No. 3 seed heading into this weekend’s state playoffs.
Austin Samuel led three Seminoles in double digits with 15 points, including 13 in the first half, as Salem appears to be clicking at just the right time during the postseason.
The Seminoles used a 10-0 run to bury the Red Elephants in the opening period and head coach Noah Harrell said that the Seminoles’ aggressiveness in the first quarter was essential to Salem earning its ninth victory of the season.
“We wanted to come out and set the tone early,” Harrell said. “We wanted to show that we were going to pressure early and keep the pressure on for the rest of the game. We did a really good job of that in the first quarter.”
Salem led by 14 at halftime, but put the game away comfortably in the third, leading by as many as 26 after halftime.
Quintavious Byrd drained a 3-pointer from the left wing with 4:23 to go in the period, jump starting a 10-0 Salem run. Samuel scored on a put-back layup during the run and Michael Green connected with a 3-pointer at the top of the key, extending Salem’s lead to 51-29 with just over two minutes left in the quarter.
Salem forced five Gainesville turnovers in the quarter and pushed its lead to 24 on a Red Elephants’ turnover and Jarret Cook layup at the other end. Trevon Long hit a jumper with 31 second left, pushing Salem ahead 59-33, but the Red Elephants’ Luke Maddox converted a layup before the quarter ended for a 59-35 Seminoles’ lead.
Gainesville outscored the Seminoles 15-8 in the fourth quarter with much of Salem’s bench playing the final eight minutes. The Red Elephants ended the game on a 7-0 run, but the Seminoles’ third-quarter push was more than enough for their second win over Gainesville this season.
“This game means a whole lot to us honestly because it means that our confidence is holding up,” Harrell said. “We had a good performance in the tournament, but tonight I really felt like we played a full game and put it together. That’s what we’ve been looking for all season and it’s good to see that heading into the state tournament. We want to earn the first state playoff win in our program’s history and I think tonight showed the guys that they can accomplish that.”
Salem opened the game on a 10-point scoring run, using seven points from Samuel in the quarter to befuddle the Red Elephants early. Demyon Greenwood scored twice during the run and a Samuel 3-pointer with just over four minutes gone in the period pushed Salem ahead 16-4.
Gainesville’s J.D. Sasebee and Cedrick Bryant knocked down baskets to end the Red Elephants’ scoring in the opening period, as Gainesville trailed 18-8 entering the second quarter.
Both teams traded points in the second, with Gainesville cutting Salem’s lead to nine with a free throw with 2:31 remaining but Cook and Byrd scored consecutive layups to help the Seminoles to a 37-23 halftime lead.
Kristopher Bridgeman and Cook finished with 10 apiece to tallying double digit scoring nights for the Seminoles, while Maddox paced the Red Elephants with 13.
Salem returns to action Saturday on the road in the first round of the Class AAAAA state tournament against Wednesday night’s winner of Miller Grove and Stephenson.
Saturday’s game time has not yet been set.