Gadsden State falls short in conference semifinals

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Photo: Massiah Morris, pictured competing against Coastal Alabama South earlier this season, led Gadsden State with 19 points in the Cardinals’ 68-64 loss to Wallace-Hanceville in Alabama Community College Conference Tournament Division I men’s basketball semifinals on Friday, March 8 in Huntsville. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)

By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor

In a game that was tied 12 times and had 16 lead changes, the Alabama Co-mmunity College Conference Division I men’s basketball semifinal between Gadsden State and Wall-ace-Hanceville had all the makings of a nail biter down the stretch on March 8 in Huntsville.
Unfortunately for the Cardinals, it was Wallace State that put the finishing touches on a 68-64 victory and denied Gadsden State’s hopes for the program’s first state championship game appearance since 2013.
Demarreon Baldwin’s layup with 1:10 left in the second half provided the Cardinals with a 64-63 lead, but that turned out to be the final points of the night for Gadsden State.
Eleven seconds after Baldwin’s basket, Arthur Johnson knocked down a pair of free throws that made it 65-64 in favor of Wallace State. The Cardinals misfired on the ensuing possession, and with 29 seconds left, the Lions’ Jimmy Williams was fouled in the process of grabbing the rebound.
Williams sank both attempts to push the Wallace advantage to 67-64, leaving Gadsden State with an opportunity to tie the game with a three-point basket. That shot attempt fell short, and the Lions’ Kendarious Anderson was fouled in the ensuing scramble for the rebound.
Anderson canned one of his two attempts to make it a two-possession game. The Cardinals’ last-second heave from the perimeter was off target, sending Wallace State to the championship game against Bishop State on Saturday, March 9, where the Lions posted an 85-81 victory in overtime.
Gadsden State head coach Deddric Traver acknowledged that the Lions’ zone defense did not allow the Cardinals much room to operate.
“That’s [Wallace-Hanceville’s] game; they try to slow you down to a pace that they want to play at,” he said. “We weren’t able to play our style of basketball and move it up and down the court. [Wallace] did a good job of containment during the tournament starting off with Lawson, then us and then Bishop.”
Making matters more di-fficult for Gadsden State was the absence of Cristian Willis in the starting lineup. Wills was suffering from the effects of the flu and played only 25 minutes, finishing with three points, three rebounds and three assists.
“Cristian definitely wasn’t at full strength but told me that he wanted to be out there,” said Tarver. “He’s our best outside shooter, and without him getting some points from the perimeter, we struggled to get anything going on offense.”
Sophomore point guard Massiah Morris paced Gadsden State with 19 points along with five rebounds. Baldwin scored 10 points, while Mekhi Fitts added nine and Ja’Lynn Lacy chipped in six. Javion Belle-McCrary distributed five assists.
“Massiah stepped up as much as he could, but when you’re used to getting about 30 points combined every night from (Willis and McCrary) and you end up with five, it’s tough to win.”
Johnson followed Smith with 19 points for the Lions, with Anderson chipping in eight.
Tarver was impressed with the performance of Williams, who scored a game-high 27 points.
“We knew from the previous two games we played against [Wallace] that he was going to get his points. We just had to keep anyone else from breaking loose. No. 4 (Johnson) wasn’t a factor against us in the regular season but he was a factor against us and everyone else in this tournament.”
The contest was tight from the opening tipoff, with neither team leading by more than five points throughout the first half. Morris scored 15 of his point during the initial 20 minutes, including a long three-pointer with 25 seconds remaining that banked in off the glass.
Morris scored again with five seconds left for a three-point GSCC lead before Smith sank two foul shots to draw the Lions within 29-28 at intermission.
The second half was just as tight. The largest lead Gadsden State had was five points, which occurred with less than 10 minutes left. Morris, Baldwin, Fitts, Willis and Shannon Jones all contributed clutch shots and/or free throws down the stretch, but Wallace State produced a few more to send the Cardinals packing for the 2023-24 season.
Tarver praised the contributions of Morris, Markavious Atkinson and Michael Dale, the three sophomores who also played as freshmen last season.
“Massiah and Markavious were our captains this year, and they brought stability and learned behind some pretty good players. Michael’s a solid teammate whose been battling injuries all season. All three guys mean a lot to this program. They’re all on track to graduate in May and all three should have the opportunity to play at a four-year school.
“I tell all my incoming freshmen that with the resources we have in place for them at Gadsden State, they should succeed, but they don’t take advantage of those resources, they won’t [succeed]. Obviously, those three guys succeeded.”

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