HAMMOND | It was just one play, but it pretty much symbolized what happened on Wednesday night inside Gavit's gym.
Griffith trailed by a point with 14.8 seconds left in the game. Gavit's Aryk Rivoli-Johnson made a break on the inbound pass and the Panther knocked it out of bounds.
That one defensive play helped Gavit to the white-knuckle 63-60 win.
The Gladiators' defense forced 20 turnovers but 10 in the third quarter when the game started to change.
“At halftime coach told us our defense was good but it had to get better,” Rivoli-Johnson said. “We play hard, force turnovers and make things happen. That's what gets us going.”
Griffith (6-6) did steal a pass with 2.8 left, but Flint Powell's half-court shot hit the back iron before falling to the ground.
“What were we from the free throw line?” Griffith coach Gary Hayes asked. When he heard the Panthers were 8-of-18, he just walked to the locker room saying, “We've lost four games this year because of free throws.”
Xavier Copeland led Gavit (7-5) with 20 points. D.J. Jones had 17 and Shalon Bell scored 10. But Eric Sims hit two fourth-quarter 3-pointers that helped keep emotion on Gavit's side.
The first half was mostly a back-and-forth struggle as both teams tried to find a consistent rhythm. Ben Parish led the Panthers in the paint (six points) and Copeland did the same for the Glads (11 points).
But with two minutes left in the opening half when Griffith's Hayes put junior Rodney Lewis into the game. It was like a Panthers' magic wand.
Lewis nailed three 3-pointers in the final 120 seconds to give Griffith a 33-26 lead at halftime.
The Panthers missed six free throws in the fourth quarter when the game was on the line.
“They're a young team that's very talented,” Ridenour said of Griffith. “I think with our experience we were able to do some good things in the second half. Defense is one of our strengths.”
Parish led Griffith with 15, Powell scored 12 and Tremmell Murphy had 11 for the Panthers, losers of three straight.