The Gibbs High School varsity basketball team (21-8) defeated the Central Bears (25-5) by a score of 59-55 on Friday night. The neutral playoff game, which was part of the 4A 2022 Boys Basketball State Tournament, took place at Gibbs High School in St. Petersburg.
Both teams were well represented in the stands with nearly every scoring eliciting uproarious cheering. In a battle of what felt like two heavyweights trading punches, the Gladiators landed the knockout blow in the final seconds to punch their ticket to the next round of the playoffs.
The visitors quickly jumped out to leads of four and five points early in the first quarter, but Gibbs weathered the storm. Junior Guard Carmine Thomas put the Gladiators on the board with a shot from downtown to break the early scoring drought. From there, it was off to the races. However, the home team would only grab a fleeting early lead near the end of the first quarter when Senior Center Jacquez Day drilled his own three to make it 17-16.
The opening period ended with Central Senior Tre Joyner putting up two more points to retake the lead from Gibbs with a tenuous 18-17 advantage. The second quarter was very much the same with Central scoring early and often and putting the Gladiators in a six-point hole – their largest deficit of the evening.
Mirroring their performance from the initial quarter as well, the home team fought back and tied it up heading into the half. Thanks to a prescient time out by Gibbs when down 26-20 and a handful of points from the charity stripe, the Gladiators knotted the score at 32 all before the break.
The second half echoed the preceding quarters yet again with the Bears taking a lead off a Tre Joyner two-point field goal. Following a Caden Bergantino score, Central had built its third five-plus point advantage in as many quarters. True to form, the home team managed to hold serve at a three-point deficit heading into the fourth.
That is where the Gladiators finally flipped the script. After playing from slightly behind all night, Gibbs took the lead for good with back-to-back baskets by Freshman Point Guard Jacob Daniels. The second of which was a particularly acrobatic score in which Daniels partially lost possession of the ball and spun around just before the shot. This brought another wave of cheers from the home crowd. With Gibbs momentarily struggling to close out the game with free throws later on, Daniels also drained a critical score from the charity stripe to put the Gladiators up 4 with under a minute remaining. The Gladiators would finish off the Bears with one more score for good measure to take the four-point playoff victory.
After the game, Gladiators Head Coach Larry Murphy credited Junior Forward Khalil Thomas for coming in late in the matchup and turning the tide. His influence was felt starting midway through the third and continuing throughout the fourth quarter. Thomas drained critical shots that evened the score, reduced the deficit to a single point and then later extended Gibbs’ lead to a game-high seven points.
While Central’s impressive season comes to a close, the Gladiators will move on to face Andrew Jackson High School (28-2) in a neutral playoff game on Thursday morning.