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The third time was the charm for the South Georgia State College Hawks.
Led by GCAA Player of the Year Carlos Hart, the No. 2 seed Hawks defeated the top seed Georgia Highlands Chargers 76-72 Saturday afternoon to capture their second GCAA Tournament Championship in three years.
Saturday’s win avenges SGSC’s two regular season losses to Georgia Highlands. The Chargers escaped Waycross with an 85-83 overtime win Jan. 25 and defeated the Hawks 69-65 Feb. 23 in Rome.
Hart had 23 points, nine rebounds, two assists, and two blocked shots. Kyric Davis had 16 points, five rebounds, and two assists.
“This is amazing,” said head coach Cory Baldwin. “It’s amazing for Zae (Wiggins), Justin (Edmondson), and Malik (Allen), because they now have two championships. It’s also neat for the young guys. And what about Carlos (Hart)? This is an unbelievable way to cap off winning Player of the Year.”
The game started slow for the Hawks, as the Chargers built an early 15-6 lead. Baldwin said he started to notice a difference in his team after the first media timeout with less than 15 minutes remaining in the half.
“We were sleepwalking a little at the beginning,” Baldwin said. “That first media timeout was a big key to the game for us. After that, we held them (Georgia Highlands) to where they only scored on five of their next 25 possessions.”
SGSC built a 12-point lead in the first half before Georgia Highlands cut the lead to seven (35-28) at halftime.
“The only adjustment we made at the half was to tell the guys to be patient,” said Baldwin. “Our goal wasn’t really to milk the clock, but we wanted to slow things down.”
The Chargers trimmed the deficit to two points multiple times in the last 20 minutes but could not overcome SGSC’s strong performance at the free throw line. The Hawks missed four free throws the entire game (87.1 percent).
As Baldwin celebrated with this year’s tournament championship team, he was quick to remember his 2015 players who won the regular season championship but watched the Chargers snatch away the tournament title in front of a capacity crowd in Waycross.
“We finally made up for that 2015 loss today,” he said. “And, when you think about it, it almost happened in the exact same way. It took eight years, but we finally did it.”
The Hawks will now turn their attention to the NJCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament scheduled for March 20-25 in Hutchinson, Kan. More information about tournament seeding and SGSC’s first round matchup will be announced at a later date.
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