The 6-foot-3 junior scored 16 fourth-quarter points and went on to post a game-high 35 as the Wolfpack won a convincing 75-51 decision over East High School on Tuesday in the Memphis vs. Atlanta Roundball Christmas Classic at Marietta Garden.
Going into the fourth quarter, Whitefield (8-2) held a 50-38 lead and knew East was in striking range. But Gaines rose to the occasion early on by scoring Whitefield's first eight points of the period, and his efforts helped ignite a 12-2 run to start the frame.
"That's what good players are supposed to do," Whitefield coach Tyrone Johnson said. "I asked Kenny to trust me before the game, because I knew there would be some scouts out, and just to play within the system and to be unselfish. He was unselfish and God bless him. He played with a tremendous amount of intensity."
Gaines helped Whitefield pull away early in the fourth by hitting a variety of layups, jump shots and putbacks. Tekele Cotton, who finished with 17 points, hit his only 3-pointer of the game with 4:23 left to play to put the Wolfpack in front 62-40, forcing East to call a timeout.
That timeout failed to halt Gaines' momentum. His back-to-back dunks, the latter of which was uncontested, put the Mustangs out of contention.
Rebounding also played a factor in Whitefield's win, particularly in the first half, when it outrebounded East 25-6. Gaines also led off the glass with 12 rebounds, while Kennard Backman added 11 to go with his 11 points.
"(Rebounding) was the challenge," Johnson said. "I told the guys I wanted to make sure they left the game with at least four or five rebounds, and I was very proud of the guys for meeting that challenge."
The Wolfpack's 9-0 start in the first quarter culminated with an alley-oop dunk by Gaines off a feed from Cotton. East ended the run with its first bucket of the game and put itself back into the contest when back-to-back layups by Nick King that cut the Whitefield lead to 13-6.
Then, after missing his first four shot attempts, Cotton got hot and made consecutive layups to increase the Wolfpack's lead to 11 at the end of the first quarter.
Cotton began hitting his stride in the second quarter and helped Gaines keep the Mustangs at bay. Whitefield also got timely buckets from Backman and Chris Wingate.
"I was proud of the boys coming out and being ready to play," said Johnson, whose team will continue their holiday tournament schedule today with the two-day McDonald's Classic at Tift County. "We've been off for four days. I did like the boys' intensity (Tuesday night), and they were very unselfish."