Photo: Gadsden State’s Nic Looney (left) looks for an open teammate as Wallace-Hanceville’s Jonathan Andre defends during the Cardinals’ 63-60 win in men’s basketball on Tuesday (Jan. 9) in Gadsden. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)
By Chris McCarthy
Gadsden State men’s head basketball coach Deddric Tarver had a feeling that his team’s Alabama Community College Conference opener would go down to the wire.
That premonition proved correct, as the Cardinals (10-6, 1-0) needed a last-minute basket to put away from Wallace State-Hanceville, 63-60, on Jan. 9 at Beck Field House.
In a second half during which neither team maintained a lead higher than seven points, Gadsden State found itself trailing by one point following a Lion 3-point basket with 52 seconds to go, and Tarver used his final timeout.
“I just told the kids that we had to make a play,”he said. “We had to either take a shot or make a basket on every possession.”
The Cardinals worked the clock until 20 second remained, at which point Shond McKinney drove from the top of the key and laid the ball in, making it 61-60 in favor of the hosts.
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Following a Wallace-Hanceville time-out, the Lions misfired on a pair of jump shots. The ball eventually was rebounded by Gadsden State, and Maurice K. Johnson polished off the Cardinals’ first ACCC victory with a resounding slam dunk at the buzzer.
“We thought that the game might come down to one possession, so we just played hard to the end and made it happen. We just never quit and never game up and stayed within our game plan. I think we stopped them on two or three possessions down the stretch.”
Gadsden State also made its foul shots when it counted. The Cardinals shot 50 percent overall (17-for-34) but converted 7-of-9 free throws over the last six minutes.
“We missed a lot of free throws in the first half (GSCC was 5-for-14), but we got it down late, and I’m proud of our kids for stepping it up,” said Tarver.
John Arnold led the Cardinals with 19 points, followed by Norman Kelly with 13, McKinney with 11, Johnson with nine and Richardson with eight,
Helped by 14 points and three 3-point baskets from Arnold, Gadsden State overcame its struggles at the foul line to enter halftime with a 35-33 lead. Arnold’s sharpshooting was almost matched by Deequan Fleming, who kept the Lions (12-5, 0-1) within striking distance with 13 points.
The Cardinals stretched their advantage to five points on a couple of occasions in the second half, but Wallace connected on six 3-point baskets to prevent a sustained GSCC run. DeMarkus Lampley’s trey with a minute to go briefly gave the Lions the lead, but that turned out to be the final points for the visitors.
Fleming paced the Lions with 15 points, followed by Chris Rollins with 11.
“It’s real tough in the North Division in this conference, so it’s going to like this each and every night,” said Tarver. “We worked hard from the preseason on to get to this point, and we want to continue on.”