GC ends season in Fab Four,
By ANDY RUSSELL
finishes season with 32 wins
The season ended all too soon for the Tigers this past Monday in Kansas City as they made a miraculous run to the Fab Four in the NAIA National Tournament. Their road to the tournament was a rough one, and they really made the most of their opportunity. They came up only a mere couple of shots short, and if some balls had bounced differently they would have advanced to play Pikeville College (fellow Mid-South Conference member) in the finals.
Although GC wasn’t able to advance to the finals they, along with Pikeville, gained a lot of respect for the Mid- South Conference and will no doubt plant a seed in the minds of the selection committee next year. GC’s season is over, but they had a rough road to the Fab Four and should stand proud of what they accomplished along the way.
Their first round game was against Olivet Nazarene and they were not overlooking them. GC has exited the tournament in the first round each of the last two years and it turns out the third time is a charm. They took care of business against them with an 83-76 win. The most impressive player of the game was Vic Moses, who led GC with 24 points and 12 rebounds. The most astonishing thing was that he didn’t miss a shot from the field at all, hitting on all 12 attempts. The Tigers also played great defense and forced 20 turnovers, as opposed to only giving the ball away 10 times. GC struggled from deep, but their great defensive play and stellar coaching kept them in the game and they hit key shots down the stretch to get the win.
Their next opponent was McKendree University and if they won they would punch their ticket to the quarterfinals. After a tough opening round game, GC needed a little something extra to get past McKendree and they didn’t have it in the opening 20 minutes of the game. The Tigers opened up the second half big with some big buckets and solid play from Rodney Haddix, Maurice Pearson and Moses. McKendree wouldn’t get closer than eight points the rest of the half and GC closed them out with good shots and solid defense. Pearson finished with 19 points and Moses had 16 to round out the Tigers in double- figures.
This big win put them into the quarterfinals against No. 2 seeded Concordia University. Concordia, out of California, has never faced GC and was looking to stop the run. They, like the previous two teams, were unable to deal with GC’s defensive pressure and clutch shooting. The game was in doubt, however. With little time remaining on the clock, GC was tied with Concordia 67-67 and had been down by as many as seven in the second half.
They battled back many times in the half and were tied at the end. With 1.6 seconds left, senior Eddie Gray took the game into his own hands and put up the game-winning shot with a little kiss of the glass for a tough deuce over two Concordia defenders giving GC the win 69-67. Gray led the way with 18 points while Pearson chipped in 13. Moses had another solid game with 10 points and eight rebounds. This game put GC into the Fab Four for the first time since 2008 where they lost to Mountain State, the same team they would face on Monday night. In 2008, Mountain State got the best of the Tigers, 78-65, and GC was ready to prove that they belonged.
The game tipped-off on Monday night at 8 p.m. and was a battle from the beginning. The Tigers held a nine-point edge at the half and came out ready to play in the second half as well. Midway through the second, they held a 45-35 lead, but that’s where things seemed to unravel for Coach Happy Osborne and his seventh seeded team. GC went cold from the offensive end and started giving up easy baskets on defense. The rough bounces and a couple of questionable calls didn’t help either. However GC was able to hit enough shots down the stretch to give them a chance to win: they led 59-56 with Mountain State at the free-throw line. Mountain State went on a 6-0 run to seemingly take control. However, Rodney Haddix hit a tough turnaround jumper to pull GC within one, but the Cougars hit five free throws in the final seconds to seal the victory and send GC home.
This was a tough one to swallow as they were hoping to go home as
National Champions and many thought that they would be. Nevertheless, they played hard and left it all on the court, which is all that anyone can ask of them. It was a great season for the Tigers and they finished strong with their 12th appearance in the Fab Four. They now have 52 tournament wins, second all-time behind Oklahoma Baptist. For now the team can hold their heads high and rest on knowing that they gave it their all and had a fantastic season.