The West Georgia men’s basketball team got off to a hot start in 2015. Their success has continued into 2016, as they were 13-5 coming into their home game last Thursday, January, 28th. This season has been all about streaks for West Georgia, as they have gone on two three-game winning streaks and two four-game winning streaks.
UWG started the season with an 87-78 win on the road over Division I Jacksonville State. This win was followed by two more vs Miles College and Lane College. During these two games at home, UWG averaged 116.5 points (J-State game was exhibition, does not count towards record).
The first loss came the next week at Columbus State. UWG put up 106 points, but it wasn’t enough as they lost 110-106. Another loss came three days later at Morehouse. This defeat was a close one as comeback fell short by 3 points. This loss gave the Wolves a 2-2 record on the year.
The second three-game winning streak started next as the Wolves defeated Montevallo 86-78 in the Coliseum in Carrollton. This was followed by two more home wins vs Delta State and Mississippi College, kicking off conference play. These three wins propelled UWG to a 5-2 record with a 2-0 conference record.
UWG then suffered two losses at the hands of North Alabama and Alabama Huntsville. Both of these games were on the road, a place where UWG has struggled this year (outside the J-State win).
During the next 9 games, West Georgia went 8-1 with their only loss coming on the road in overtime to rival Valdosta State. All 9 of these games were conference games, and after the span UWG had an overall record of 13-5 and a conference record of 10-3.
This 9-game span leads us into the games last week, where UWG took on Alabama Huntsville in the Coliseum. The winner of this game would stay atop the conference rankings. Keep in mind West Georgia’s home record coming into this game was a perfect 10-0, but they had lost their previous game at Alabama Huntsville, 94-84.
West Georgia got off to a hot start shooting the ball as they lead nearly the entire first half. Senior guard Marcus Dortch hit three of his first four shots, two of them were three-pointers.
While watching this game, one could tell UWG had more talent on their roster. On the other hand, one could also tell Alabama Huntsville was very well-coached. This matchup of sheer ability and fundamental basketball made for a great first half.
Alabama Huntsville found themselves down 9 points with two minutes left in the first half. Over the next two minutes, UWG could not find the basket while UAH scored six points. These six points came from two consecutive old-fashioned three-point plays (getting fouled while making a basket, then making the free throw). This gave The Wolves a 44-41 lead heading into half time. UWG shot an impressive 48.5% from the field during the first half.
UAH came out strong and tied the game up at 48 just five minutes into the second half. They seemed to make some adjustments at halftime that slowed down the shooting of West Georgia. They came out running a 2-3 zone, which one would think UWG would be able to shoot themselves out of. Unfortunately for Wolves fans, their team could not get their shots to fall in the second half facing this different looking defense.
Junior forward Shannon Fowler had an impressive game on the defensive end. He had the size on the opposing big man, and was able to shoot over him quite a few times. Shannon ended the game with 17 points on 7-10 shooting, and also record 6 rebounds and a blocked shot. Four of those six rebounds came on the offensive end.
With 7:41 left in the game, the Wolves were down 61-60. As I mentioned earlier, the shots would just not fall for the Wolves in the second half. They were 1-of-9 from behind the three-point line and 8-of-26 overall (30.8%). Once the UAH scoring picked up, the game fell out of reach.
With two minutes to go, West Georgia was down 74-64. At this point, it became a fouling game. The finals score was 83-73 in favor of UAH. This was UWG’s first home loss, and only their fourth conference loss. It dropped them from the top spot in the conference rankings, as UAH moved into that position with the win.
West Georgia only scored 29 points in the second half, and 12 of those points were from the free throw line. Marcus Dortch ended with 18 points on 6-of-13 from the field. He was 3-of-9 from three-point range. Senior forward Jovany Austin ended with 10 points and was 6-of-6 from the free throw line.
This loss gave the Wolves a 13-6 overall record and a 10-4 conference record. The next game came two days later on January 30th, also in The Coliseum, vs North Alabama. UWG had lost the last game on the road to the Lions by a score of 96-87.
During the first five minutes of the game, UWG was reeling in offensive boards on nearly every possession. They could not capitalize on these chances and got down early.
North Alabama played a lot like Alabama Huntsville, but they had more of an inside game. The lions were getting most of their early points by getting the ball inside and attacking the paint. If they were not getting baskets, they were getting fouled.
Austin Timms and Bilal Richardson were able to take over the paint during the first half for the Lions. Timms was cutting to the basket and getting some wide open looks, and Richardson was using his pure strength and power to get to the rim.
Both teams ended the first half with 5 three-pointers, but UNA clearly had the edge in the paint. The Wolves went into halftime trailing 51-40. This half was not the best from the floor for the Wolves, as they shot 36.1% (5-17 from three). They also went 9-14 from the free throw line.
After halftime, the dominant force inside continued for North Alabama. UNA’s Bilal Richardson had a career game, tallying 26 points and 20 rebounds. 10 of those points came from the free throw line. Austin Timms ended his game with 20 points and 8 rebounds.
With 5:11 left to go, junior guard Steph Branch stole the ball and had a monstrous dunk. Unfortunately for Steph and the home fans, it ended in a technical foul for hanging on the rim. This looked as if it could spark a run for UWG, but after the made foul shots the score was 84-70.
As the game went on, UNA continued their steady lead. With 4:17 left to go, the Lions were up 88-75 on West Georgia.
The Wolves made a late push, but UNA’s success at the free throw line paired UWG’s lack of success in the same category led North Alabama to a 97-91 win over West Georgia.
This win gave the Lions the sweep of the Wolves on the year, and gave UWG its second consecutive conference and home loss. West Georgia now has an overall record of 13-7 with a 10-5 conference record.
West Georgia’s senior guard Iakeem Alston ended the game with 27 points and 6 rebounds. He was 9-of-13 from the floor. Only two other West Georgia players were able to hit the double digit scoring mark. Junior Guard Steph Branch had 11 points, and junior point guard Christian Houston had 13.
There is some good news and some bad news out of all this for West Georgia basketball fans. The guys have now lost 2 games in a row for the third time this year, which is obviously the bad news. A little more bad news is the fact that UWG has to play 5 of their remaining 7 games on the road, where they have had little success.
The good news is the fact that after the first two 2-game losing streaks, UWG went on to have a 3-game and a 4-game winning streak immediately after. More good news is West Georgia has beaten 6 of their 7 remaining opponents. The only loss is to rival Valdosta State, and that came in overtime.
With their 13-7 overall record and their 10-5 conference record, West Georgia is now second in the Gulf South Conference standings. Alabama Huntsville holds the top spot with a 15-5 overall record and a 12-3 conference record.
Right behind the Wolves sits North Alabama and Union. UNA has also swept the Wolves this year and they have a 10-5 conference record with a 13-8 overall record. The Wolves defeated Union earlier in the year, but the Bulldogs have a 9-6 conference record and a 15-6 overall record. The next game between the two teams (West Georgia and Union) is tonight at 9 PM in Jackson, Tennessee.
The Wolves have had to find a different source for scoring points this season compared to last season. They lost their top two scorers in Deonta Stocks and Alex Abreu. Stocks averaged 22.7 ppg and Abreu averaged 16.7 ppg, both of these totals are more than any single player has this year for the Wolves.
Coach Michael Cooney and his staff must have taken a page from football Coach Will Hall and his staff while assembling their team this off-season. Both coaches have done an excellent job of recruiting in the past couple of years. Four of the five leading scorers for the Wolves this year are in their first year at the school.
- Iakeem Alston*- 14.6 ppg
- Steph Branch*- 14.1 ppg
- Shannon Fowler*- 11.5 ppg
- Keron Briggs*- 10.4 ppg
- Marcus Dortch- 9.5 ppg
*-First year at UWG (transfers)
I am sure I was not the only Wolves fan this off-season that was incredibly interested in seeing how this team would play out. With four of the five leading scorers being brand new to the school, the guys returning to the team had to adjust to quite a few new teammates. Some of which came in and, for lack of a better term, took their job as a starter.
Piecing this team together has been a hard process for Coach Michael Cooney and his staff, but they have exceeded my expectations so far this season. It is not easy to develop the useful chemistry needed for success in basketball in just a few short months. This team has done very well coming together and playing as a team, and I believe it will continue into the GSC tournament in early March.
The Wolves will return home Thursday, February 18th to face West Florida in a conference match up. The Wolves took down the Argonauts in the last game in Pensacola, Florida, 71-69.
***PICTURES WITH THE LOGO IN THE BOTTOM RIGHT CORNER WERE TAKEN BY ME, BRANDON WRIGHT. ANY PICTURE NOT WITH THE LOGO IN THE BOTTOM RIGHT I DID NOT TAKE. ALL OF THE PICTURES IN THIS SPECIFIC ARTICLE WERE TAKEN BY ME***