Forest edges Vanguard with late free throws

Wildcats hang on for rivalry win over Knights

Home » Sports
Posted January 14, 2024 | By Mark Pinson

The Forest and Vanguard rivalry, which started in 1971, is as intense as ever with Thursday night’s basketball game serving as the latest example.

Forest junior Isacc Timmons converted a pair of free throws to break a tie with under two minutes left in the game, and the Wildcats held on for a thrilling 40-38 win over Vanguard in front of a raucous crowd in the Knights’ gym.

The hard-fought and physical victory improved Class 6A Forest to 13-4 on the season.

“A typical Forest and Vanguard game,” said third-year Wildcats coach Mike Hoffman. “All five games that I’ve been a part of have been decided by three points or less. It’s always fun, always crazy and exciting, but we have to make our free throws and finish the game better than that.”

Class 5A Vanguard, which missed a pair of shots in the paint in the closing seconds to tie the game and force overtime, dropped to 8-6 overall.

“I thought we got good looks at the end of the game, but they just didn’t go in,” said Knights coach Travis Licht. “I thought we battled, but we struggled to score throughout the game. We missed some free throws and some chippies that probably would have made a difference, but we just have to keep working and improving.”

Neither team shot well from the floor or the charity stripe, especially in the first quarter, but Forest senior guard Zay McCoy knocked down a 3-pointer and senior Anthony Rivera scored on a strong drive to the basket to give the Wildcats a 10-7 lead heading to the second period.

Forest went ice cold from the floor and Vanguard took advantage as senior forward Jandrian Smith scored seven of his 10 points, including a 3-pointer from the right wing, to give the Knights an 18-15 lead at the half.

The third quarter saw Vanguard miss a number of shots which allowed Forest to rally as Timmons scored four points, McCoy added three and sophomore forward Trey Chisolm added a putback to tie the score at 25 heading to the final eight minutes.

Timmons scored in the paint to give Forest a 27-25 lead with 6:17 remaining in the game. It was a lead the Wildcats would relinquish.

Forest extended its lead as McCoy scored two of his game-high 13 points and Xavier Kirkpatrick added a pair of free throws to make it 33-26 with less than four minutes left to play.

Vanguard mounted a furious rally fueled by senior D’Mareon Manning, who drilled back-to-back 3-pointers as part of a team-high 12-point effort to give the Knights a 36-35 lead with 2:41 remaining.

Forest tied it up on a free throw by McCoy and took the lead when Timmons converted a pair from the charity stripe with under a minute left to play.

Vanguard missed a 3-point attempt from the top of the key and Forest snagged the rebound and ran some time off the clock before McCoy was fouled and made one of two attempts to give the Wildcats a 39-36 lead with 37.9 seconds remaining.

Vanguard sophomore forward Dylan Harris scored two of his seven points to pull the Knights within 39-38 with 23 seconds left in the game.

Forest’s Kirkpatrick was fouled and made one of two free throws to increase the Wildcats lead to 40-38 with 8 seconds left.

Vanguard called a time out and set up a play which resulted in two good looks at the basket, but the ball failed to go in as time expired.

“We’re normally a good free throw shooting team, but we struggled mightily tonight,” coach Hoffman said. “We made some halftime adjustments to spread Vanguard out and get the ball into our playmakers hands. We also did a better job of boxing out on rebounds and picked up the intensity on defense. We’re close to being a really good team, we just need to take that next step.”

Forest is back in action on Saturday night with a home game against Lake Highland Prep in the Sixth Annual Martin Luther King Classic.

Despite the loss, coach Licht sees improvement in his scrappy Vanguard squad.

“We’re building toward the postseason and getting better,” the Knights coach said. “There is no magic formula, we just have to keep working. We’re so close right now and we just need to get over the hump and close out some of these games.”

Vanguard plays Columbia High on Saturday at Forest High in the Martin Luther King Classic.


newspaper icon

Support community journalism

The first goal of the Ocala Gazette is to deliver trustworthy local journalism so corruption, misinformation and abuse are not hidden from the public or unchallenged.

We count on community support to continue this important work. Please donate or subscribe: