The #6 nationally ranked East Georgia State College Bobcats were the favorites to win the Georgia College Athletic Association tournament championship. That prognostication held true on this Saturday night at 9:30pm, but it was a hard fought, well-earned victory.
The Bobcats held off thunderous 2nd half charge by the Chattahoochee Tech Golden Eagles to advance to the Division 1 Junior College National tournament held annually in Hutchinson, Kansas, finishing the season with a 30 and 2 record. The Regular season champs jumped out to early 8 to 0 lead in the opening minutes to setup a near flawless 1st half. The Bobcats shot 55 percent from the field, hitting 16 of their 29 shot attempts. Extending their early lead to 37 – 22 by the halftime buzzer. Led by All-League post player DJ Felder’s 16 points and 7 rebounds in the opening half, the Bobcats looked as though they could run away with the title. Lots of people in Swainsboro shared that sentiment, all except the #14 nationally ranked Golden Eagles.
Being the only team in the GCAA to have beaten the Bobcats, Chatt Tech steadily fought back. The turnaround in the game was the Golden Eagles half-court zone defense in the 2nd half. It forced East Georgia into many shots taken early in the possession, allowing the Eagles to start their transition offense, leading to seven 2nd half 3 point makes.
The Bobcats struggling to find rhythm on offense, received hard earned points from point guard Tre’ Hagood to hold on to the lead under 10 minutes of play. Hagood would lead the Bobcats on the evening with 23 points on 14 shot attempts, to go along with 10 rebounds and 5 assists.
Chatt Tech would continue to hold on tight, never letting the lead reach double-digits again. Led by PG Sean Tate’s 18 points and All-Tournament selection guard Malcolm Riley’s 27 points, Chatt Tech would have the lead down to just five points with less than three minutes remaining.
The game had been going back and forth at a five point differential for a couple of minutes. The Bobcats had possession, and the league Player of the Year, Jordan Johnson, hit the biggest shot of the night. On a night when Johnson couldn’t hit the most open of shots, he hit his most contested of shots, moving the Bobcats lead up to eight, and securely the lead into the final minute of the game.
The Golden Eagles would play the foul game late, forcing the Bobcats to the charity stripe. East Georgia would do enough at the foul line to keep the Chatt Tech at arm’s reach, but the Golden Eagles would make back to back 3’s to have the lead cut just three points with seven seconds. Having the ball, and going the full length of the court, the Golden Eagles would were unable to find a shot in the remaining moments. The Bobcats had held on to guarantee a spot in Kansas.
East Georgia State is in the running for an opening round bye in the newly formatted 24-team tournament. The top eight seeds will receive first round byes, and the remaining 16 teams will play 8 games. The tournament will begin on Monday, March 18th. What is for certain, is that GCAA Coach of the Year, Neil Bailey and his EGSC Bobcats have secured the first league championship and national tournament appearance in school history. And, that’s a fact.