This past Friday, two of the top teams in the state collided in a game that would become an instant classic. The Gainesville Red Elephants (#1 in AAAAAA) matched up with the Buford Wolves (#1 in AAAAA) in Buford’s new gymnasium for an amazing display of back-and-forth basketball. The game’s multiple lead changes were fueled by intense play from both teams. Buford headed into halftime with a narrow 38-37 lead. With the score remaining close, the Red Elephants found a spark; they managed to force 12 turnovers in the second half. Along with the turnovers, consistent 2nd half shooting from the free throw line kept Gainesville within striking distance. Rafael Rubel hit a deep 3-pointer with 8 seconds left, which tied the game at 81. In a rapid series of events, Kajuan Hale stole Buford’s following in-bounds pass. He was unintentionally fouled with 0.3 seconds left on the clock and, in a display of amazing tranquility, proceeded to drain both free throws to propel Gainesville to an 83-81 win. Hale proved to be an extremely valuable player in the Red Elephant’s winning effort. He finished with a game-leading 22 points, 13 of which came in the final quarter. Because of this, we decided to ask Kajuan a few questions about the game.
What was going through your mind when you were at the free throw line in those final moments of the game?
Kajuan: I just told myself that we were going to win the game. I had to stay confident in myself.
Can you walk us through what happened after Rafael [Rubel] hit the 3-pointer to tie the game?
Kajuan: Buford went to inbound the ball and Jabo [Xavier Bledson] and I went to play defense. When they threw it in, I managed to get my hands on the ball. I got fouled right after that.
When you’re in an intense situation like that, what do you think about to stay relaxed?
Kajuan: I don’t think about anything. I clear my mind and tell myself, “No pressure”.
What did Coach Wood have to say to the team at halftime? Were any adjustments made?
Kajuan: He told us that we had to step up on defense. I think we did that well in the second half. It helped us keep the game close.
What did you think of Buford’s new gym?
Kajuan: Man, it was crazy. It felt like playing in a college arena.
The Red Elephants (13-6) have now won 11 games in a row. Their next game is this coming Tuesday at home against region opponent Habersham Central, followed by another home game on Friday against another region opponent, Lanier.