The West Georgia men’s basketball team has now won 9 games straight. They finished off the regular season with a 6-game win streak highlighted in my last article. The last three games of their current streak came in the conference tournament, giving them their first title since 2002. Earning a two seed in the conference tournament set them up to face Christian Brothers University in the quarterfinals. The game was played on Tuesday, March 1st in Carrollton at The Coliseum. Five West Georgia players scored in double digits during this game, marking the 3rd time they have accomplished that this year. Junior Steph Branch led all scorers with 14, and junior Shannon Fowler achieved his fourth double-double of the year in the 85-82 West Georgia victory. He finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Senior Deontre Brown (13), junior Keron Briggs (11), and senior Iakeem Alston (11) all also had double figures in the victory. West Georgia got out to a huge lead in the first half. With just over two minutes left, they were up 45-26 before CBU went on a 7-1 run. This made the score 46-33 going into halftime. West Georgia was an astounding 7-of-10 in the first half from three, with three coming from senior Zach Taulien and three coming from Keron Briggs. Christian Brothers made a furious comeback in the second half, pulling to within one at 83-82. Although they came within one point, they could not tie or take the led from UWG in the second half. Steph Branch hit two clutch free throws to close out the game. This win gave West Georgia a birth in the conference semi-finals, where they took on Union, who had just beaten Valdosta State. Union was the 3 seed in the conference tournament heading into their semi-final matchup with West Georgia. The teams split their regular season series.
Iakeem Alston and Steph Branch combined for 42 of UWG’s 71 points in the 71-68 victory. The Wolves were down by as many as 14 points in the second half before pulling off a ferocious comeback to steal the victory. This game was much different from the last game from behind the arc, as UWG went into the half 0-of-12 from three. At this time, Union was up 38-30 and they only made that lead larger in the second half. But with 8:51 remaining in the game, the Wolves got the lead back down to single-digits. With 3:05 left, Alston converted on an and-one dunk, giving UWG the 64-62 lead. The next possession, Union tied it up with a pair of free throws but senior Marcus Dortch then gave UWG the 4-point lead by getting fouled on a made three-pointer. After he sank the foul shot, there were less than two minutes to play. Steph Branch then made a three-pointer giving West Georgia a 71-66 lead, their largest of the game. After fending off two game-tying three-pointers, West Georgia had the victory and was headed to the 2016 Gulf South Conference Championship. The Championship game was played at Samford University. West Georgia was set to face #1 seeded Alabama-Huntsville, a team that had swept them in the regular season. Everyone knows that it is incredibly challenging to beat a team three times in the same year, and UWG held up those beliefs.
UAH had a small 5-0 lead in the opening minutes, but UWG quickly stormed back. After senior Jovany Austin made the score 18-17 by converting his second-consecutive shot, UWG did not look back. At halftime, UWG was leading by a score of 56-38. West Georgia shot an astounding 62.9 % from the field in the first half. UAH hit the first two shots of the second half, but UWG then went on a 9-0 run pushing the lead to 24 points with 16 minutes left. Momentum then switched, and Alabama Huntsville would not go down easily. With five minutes left in the game, the Chargers had cut the lead to 78-74. Over the next three possessions, UWG effectively put the game away. Marcus Dortch and Keron Briggs both made a three, and then a breakaway dunk by Steph Branch made the score 86-74. With 1:44 left in the game, Iakeem Alston put UWG in the record books as he slammed home a dunk. This basket made UWG the highest scoring team in Gulf South Conference Finals history. This also put the game away, and UWG took home their fourth conference title in school history. The final score was 99-82.
Marcus Dortch scored 24 points in the game and was also name to the All-Tournament Team. Iakeem Alston was named tournament MVP for averaging 16.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and a little over four assists per game. He had a double-double in the Championship with 16 points and 10 rebounds. West Georgia earned a #4 seed heading into their 17th appearance in the NCAA Tournament. The Wolves will face 5th-seeded Stillman at 8:30 PM on Saturday, March 12th. The game will be held in Huntsville, Alabama because Alabama Huntsville is the #1 seed in the south region. The south region tournament seeds are as follows: #1 Alabama Huntsville (23-7) vs #8 Saint Leo (19-11) #2 Eckerd (25-6) vs #7 Union (20-10) #3 Barry (23-6) vs #6 Rollins (21-8) #4 West Georgia (22-8) vs #5 Stillman (26-5) Stillman and West Georgia are two of the three Conference Champions in the south regional. West Georgia is the Champions of the Gulf South Conference, and Stillman is Champions of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. The last Champion is #2 seeded Sunshine State Conference Champions, Eckerd. Three Gulf South Conference teams made the NCAA Tournament this year. Top seeded Alabama Huntsville, fourth seeded West Georgia, and seventh seeded Union. West Georgia will head into their matchup with Stillman on a 9-game winning streak. However, the Tigers of Stillman are on a more impressive win streak at 17 games. West Georgia will have to play some good defense on senior guard and SIAC Player of the Year Rodnerius Lewis. He is averaging 18.9 points per game along with 4.5 rebounds. They also have the tournament MVP, Antonio Penny as well as SIAC Newcomer of the Year, Ronald Singleton. On the other hand, West Georgia has been playing some excellent basketball as of late. Throughout their current 9-game win streak, Shannon Fowler has had multiple double-doubles and 3 different players have scored 20+ points in a game. If the Wolves can continue to spread the ball around and knock down their open shots, then they have a great chance at making it to Frisco, Texas for the Elite 8. Another interesting tidbit to keep in mind is the fact that UWG is a perfect 18-0 when leading at halftime. When ahead, they tend to keep the lead and only make it larger in some cases. This tournament bid marks the second year in a row for West Georgia, and their third appearance in five years under Head Coach Michael Cooney. Back-to-back appearances have not happened since the 2001-2002 seasons. Remember, 2002 was the last time UWG won the GSC tournament. That year, they went on to win the south regional and advanced to the Elite 8, the only time in school history at the Division II level. Could this year be a repeat of the 2002 season? Well, the Wolves just took down the top seeded team in their region by 17 points, so you tell me. The winner of the UWG vs Stillman game will move to the next round to face the winner of top seeded Alabama Huntsville and 8th-seeded Saint Leo. That game will tip at 8:30 PM on Sunday, March 13th. You can listen to the game live on FM radio on Kiss 102.7, or by clicking this link. You can find a full, 64-team Division II NCAA Basketball Bracket by clicking this link. Head on over to www.Bwrightsports.com to find out how the Wolves did throughout their regular season and to see some more pictures taken by me, Brandon Wright. The watermark in the lower right-hand corner signifies pictures I captured.