Gallery: Zay and Tae show lead Forest to close win over Lake Weir

Forest’s Zay McCoy (0) drives to the basket past Lake Weir’s Amar Young (32) and John Smith (24) during a basketball game at Lake Weir High School in Candler, Fla. on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023. Forest won the game 74-66. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2023.

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Posted January 18, 2023 | By Allen Barney/
Photos By Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette

Xzavion McCoy led the Forest Wildcats (14-6) to a hard-fought 74-66 win over their nearby rival, the Lake Weir Hurricanes (4-10), on Wednesday night.

The junior guard scored a game-high 25 points and senior Tae Floyd backed up McCoy with 19 points and nine rebounds of his own.

“We came out flat, we should of came out stronger but we came out with the win, happy for my teammates.” McCoy said.

The close loss for Lake Weir was a tough pill to swallow for head coach Freddie Riley and his team.

“It’s a tough loss for us, I know how bad the kids wanted it, especially my seniors. It’s an eight-point loss but it hurts a lot because we had a big lead in the first half. We just didn’t put the full game together.” Riley said.

Lake Weir came out the gates firing on all cylinders and had a 15-5 lead after three minutes of play. The key to the hot start for Lake Weir was three-point shooting as Amari Kiner and Amar Young combined for three three-pointers. Alcarlos Richard, Jordan Gimenez and Tylique Christie all scored in the opening quarter for Lake Weir as well.

Forest closed out the opening period with a 13-10 run to bring the deficit down to seven points. Floyd scored the first seven points of the night for Forest and Matt Daniels drained two three-pointers in the first period.

Daniels and Anthony Rivera both hit threes in the first two minutes of the second quarter to get their team within three but Lake Weir continued their hot shooting as John Smith knocked down a triple from the right corner.

The remainder of the second quarter was a back-and-forth affair as McCoy nine points in the last three minutes of the first half, including a triple from left side. For Lake Weir, Kiner buried another triple from the right side before Tylique Christie heaved a perfectly-placed full court pass to Gimenez for an easy transition layup to keep the Hurricanes up by one with 90 seconds left in the first half.

The momentum of the game may have shifted after Gimenez’s layup as McCoy would nab a steal on defense and found an open Floyd, who scored on a monster one-handed slam dunk that brought the crowd to a fever pitch.

Gimenez sank a smooth 11-foot jumper with 20 seconds left to bring Lake Weir within one point heading into halftime.

Coming out of the break, Lake Weir took the lead on a layup from John Smith but McCoy would answer with a triple from the left side to give Forest the lead.

With 5:16 left to in the third quarter and trailing by four, Forest got a big boost from Karsen Steinbarger as he hit a three-pointer from the left side. On the following possession, Kiner dropped in an easy layup as Richard found him wide open in the paint.

Once again, McCoy answered with his third three-pointer to tie the game with four minutes left in the third quarter. The junior point guard took over in the second half, scoring 12 of his 25 points in the third quarter.

“He was huge for us, we’ve been asking him to carry the load and he has struggled at times but tonight he took over in the third quarter and it became the Zay show. It was good to see him have success and be fired up, he’s been such a great leader and floor general for us and I couldn’t ask for a better guy to have on my side.” Forest head coach Mike Hoffmann said.

Despite McCoy’s efforts, Lake Weir did not give in to the pressure as Kiner and Christie knocked down three-pointers to pull the Hurricanes within three until Trashawn Warren sank a three-pointer from the top of key as time expired in the third quarter.

“It’s been awesome to watch him grow all year. Practices hard every single day and hasn’t got a ton of minutes this season but in the last week or two he has gotten more minutes and you love to see that out of a kid by not giving up.” Hoffmann said.

Forest carried a six-point lead and the momentum into the final period and Steinbarger scorched the net from downtown in the opening minute of the period. Richard and Christie scored on back-to-back possessions for Lake Weir before Floyd stepped up in a huge way with five points over the span of 40 seconds to put Forest up by 11.

Kiner and Gimenez both drained three-pointers to bring the deficit down to six before Steinbarger stole a pass at half court and hit both of his free throws with 25 seconds to go to seal the win for Forest.

A somber Riley said he was happy with the way his team fought against a good team but wants to see his squad put together a complete game.

“When we play hard, play smart and play the right way, we can compete with anyone.” Riley said.

Kiner echoed the sentiment of his head coach and feels the loss will give Lake Weir confidence moving forward.

“This proves we can hang with any team we play against.” Kiner said.

The junior guard led Lake Weir with 16 points, four three-pointers and also contributed with seven rebounds and four steals.

Other players of note for Lake Weir include Gimenez (14 points, four steals and three assists), Richard (13 points, nine rebounds and two steals) and Young (eight points, three rebounds).

Along with his 25 points, McCoy also grabbed seven rebound and four steals. Daniels finished with 11 points and five rebounds while Rivera and Steinbarger scored eight points apiece.

Hoffmann said he was pleased with the win but things need to be worked on for the defensive side as the season rolls on.

“When you put up 70-plus points, I’m always going to be happy with that but defense has to be better. They came out and scored and shot the ball well so credit to them. If we want to accomplish our goal of a district championship, we have to be better defensively.” Hoffmann said.

Lake Weir returns to the hardwood next Wednesday at North Marion; Forest has a shorter break as they will host Vanguard on Friday at 7:30.

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