By Mike Goodson/Sports Correspondent
The Gadsden State men’s basketball team was one win away last Saturday (Mar. 9) from an Alabama Community College Conference title and a trip to the NJCAA tournament in Hutchinson, Kans.
The lone obstacle in the Cardinals’ way was large and physical Shelton State team.
Throw in the loss of starting forward Terence Lee, who was injured in the final minute of Gadsden State’s semifinal win on Friday, and the result was an 80-75 loss to the North Division top-seeded Bucs.
The Cardinals ended their season at 23-8.
“They are a tough team, although we had a chance to win without Terence,” said Gadsden State head coach Todd Ginn. “We had a great season, a good group of assistant coaches and a great bunch of players. Plus, the community is starting to support us.”
The North No. 2 seed Cardinals hung around to the very end.
Zach Owens’ layup with under a minute left in regulation tied the game at 75-75 before a pair of free throws by Jacob Perry gave Shelton State a two-point lead with 44 seconds remaining.
A costly GSCC turnover then gave the ball back to Shelton State with a chance to put the game away.
With 22 seconds on the clock, a foul put the Bucs at the free throw line, and Shelton State missed both attempts to give the Cardinals a brief glimmer of life.
On the second miss, however, the Bucs’ D’ariel Franklin grabbed the rebound and put the ball in for a 79-75 lead.
A free throw with one second remaining iced the game for Shelton State.
In an intense first half, Shelton State emerged with a 31-29 lead. Gadsden State benefited from some offensive firepower from Stedman Scott who banged inside for 11 of his 15 points in the opening half.
The second half saw Gadsden State open with a 5-0 run to take a brief lead at 34-31. The game went back and forth for several minutes before Shelton State built a 55-48 lead with nine minutes remaining.
A 7-2 stretch drew Gadsden State within 57-55 with 7:10 to play, and the Cardinals chipped away at the Buc lead until Perry’s foul shots forced the tie with a minute to go.
Owens paced Gadsden State with 20 points, followed by Scott with 15.
Kenric McCants contributed with 13 points, eight rebounds, four assists and three steals.
Collin Langley and Matt Margavio finished with eight and seven points, respectively.
Perry led Shelton State with 22 points.
In the tournament semifinals on Friday (Mar. 8), Gadsden State posted a 79-76 win over Chattahoochee Valley.
Gadsden State took a one-point lead after the first 20 minutes of play in a game that saw the score tied on numerous occasions and the lead change hands several times.
Langley scored eight first-half points to help the Cardinals enter halftime with a 36-35.
The second half was a close battle with neither team being able to put together a sustained run to pull away. The Pirates led 56-51 before Gadsden State went on an 8-0 run to lead 59-56.
With the game tied at 69-69 with 2:15 remaining, the Cardinals used a 5-0 run to take the lead for good at 74-69 with 1:25 to play.
Gadsden State eventually iced the game at the free throw line, although Chattahoochee Valley hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to cut the lead to 79-76.
“Chattahoochee Valley is a taller team and handled our press well,” said Ginn. “They managed to pass over it, so the press was ineffective. They’re a good team, but we survived.”
Owens led Gadsden State with 19 points, followed by Langley with 14 and Lee with 10. Langley was 4-of-7 from three-point range, while Owens grabbed six rebounds.
McCants contributed eight points and seven assists, while Matt Margavio collected eight points and six boards. Sloan Garner had four blocks.
Lee was injured in the final minute of play and was unable to play in Saturday’s championship game.
After a first-round bye, Gadsden State opened the tournament on Mar. 7 with a 65-62 victory over Southern Union.
McCants led the Cardinals with 21 points, followed by Owens with 14.
Deddrick Lovelace posted a double-double of 10 points and 11 rebounds.