About one third of Gilbert High School’s 32 basketball games this season have been decided by five points or less, so after two methodical wins in the first two rounds of this year’s 5A state tournament it was time for a nail-biter Saturday night.
The fourth-ranked Tigers fought off a furious fourth-period charge by Phoenix Camelback and hung on to edge the Spartans, 57-55, in a quarterfinal at Phoenix South Mountain High School.
Camelback’s Eric Anderson, scoreless through three periods, scored 16 points in the final period to help the Spartans rally from a 12-point deficit with 6 minutes left in the game.
Anderson was at the free-throw line with four seconds left and his team trailing, 56-54. He got two shots and made the first, making him 8-of-8 in the period. Gilbert then called timeout to make Anderson think a little more about the second free throw. The logic worked as Anderson’s second attempt hit the heel of the rim and bounced off to Tigers guard Sean Cayton. He was fouled with two seconds left.
Cayton made the first free throw and intentionally missed the second, but missed hitting the rim and the ball was awarded out of bounds to Camelback. Spartans guard Tyreece Johnson threw up a three-quarter court shot at the buzzer that fell short, sending Gilbert players and fans to the court.
Gilbert (29-3) advances to the semifinals for the first time in the era of coach Tom Bennett at 8:30 p.m. Thursday at America West Arena. There, Gilbert will face top-ranked Phoenix Trevor Browne, a 103-100, double-overtime winner over Mesa.
‘‘This one didn't come easy,’’ Bennett said. ‘‘I thought we did a nice job defensively, but they are hard to defend.’’
Gilbert entered the game allowing 45 points per game. The Spartans total of 55 was the second-most scored against the Tigers this season. Anderson’s 16 points and the Spartans’ 27 in the final period were almost unthinkable this season against Gilbert.
Gilbert’s Ryan Toolson (game-high 19 points), Tommy Hambicki and Stas Chomokos combined to make 10 free throws in the final period to keep Gilbert ahead despite Anderson’s heroics. Mike Grothaus added 14 points. Hambicki and Cayton had seven apiece.