By Chris McCarthy/Editor
Jay Watkins certainly gave Gadsden State a homecoming night to remember.
The 6’4” sophomore forward out of Decatur poured in a career-high 44 points – including a stellar 88 percent performance at the free throw line – to lead the Cardinals to a 90-85 victory over Lawson State in the school’s homecoming on Monday (Feb. 17) at Beck Field House.
Watkins, who converted 21-of-24 foul shots, also had 11 rebounds, two assists and a block. He scored 15 of his points over the final 10:08, including an 11-for-14 effort (79 percent) at the charity stripe.
Watkins is the current ACCC leader in both scoring average (25.2) and rebounding average (9.4).
“Jay’s the best player in the conference,” said Ginn. “He’s just that good, and you saw that tonight. He really stepped it up when we needed him to.”
Trailing 43-37 at halftime, Gadsden State clawed back to go up 63-61 midway through the second half. Both teams were in the bonus free throw situation by then, and the Cardinals went 9-for-10 at the line to take the lead for good at 83-81 with 3:19 left.
The Cougars closed within 85-84 with 1:25 on the clock, but Lawson State had to foul in order to regain possession, and Watkins sank a pair free throws and made a layup over the final 39 seconds to put away the Birmingham squad.
The Cardinals shot 88 percent (28-for-32) from the free throw line while Lawson State converted 19-of-35 attempts for 54 percent. Gadsden State was 22-for-26 in the second half to the Cougars’ 11-for-24 showing.
“That’s what it boiled down to,” said Ginn. “That was the determining factor. If we don’t make some of those, it’s a whole different ball game.”
Jacob Gibson contributed 18 points, five steals and three assists, while Pat Edmonds finished with 14 points.
Sloane Garner added seven points and Stedman Scott grabbed eight rebounds.
Khalil Davis paced the Cougars with 17 points, followed by Da’Shaun Griffin with 16 and Corey Ricks with 15.
The Cardinals trailed for a good portion of the first half, but Watkins scored eight straight points later in the frame to help the hosts take a 31-29 lead.
Lawson State, however, finished out the half with an 8-0 run for a seven-point lead at the break.
“The first half was so frustrating because we’d get up by two [points] and then they’d get on an 8-0 run or something like that. But I told our guys at halftime that we’d be okay if we could put some pressure on them. We held some stuff until after halftime and made some adjustments to their zone [defense], and the guys were able to get the ball to Jay.”
It was a much-needed win, considering how the Cardinals currently have not secured a berth in the ACCC Tournament early next month. Gadsden State is in fifth place in the standing with three more conference games scheduled. According to Ginn, the Cardinals can finish as high as the third seed or out of the tournament entirely.
With wins over No. 1 Shelton State and No. 2 Lawson State, however, GSCC is in decent shape if it comes down to tiebreakers.
“There’s a logjam at the top and at the bottom [of the standings,” said Ginn. “It really depends on how we play down the stretch. I think if we win two of the three games, we’re in for sure.”