The East Georgia State College Bobcats were the favorites to win the Georgia College Athletic Association tournament championship. The Bobcats — ranked sixth in the nation — made good on their top seed in the conference tournament with a 74-71 win over Chattahoochee Tech to claim the GCAA tournament championship Saturday night.
Leading throughout the night, the Bobcats (30-2) saw their advantage cut to three points thanks to back-to-back 3’s by the Golden Eagles. Chattahoochee Tech had the ball and a chance to tie with seven seconds on the clock, but couldn’t find an open shot as time wound down.
The Bobcats (30-2) held off a thunderous second half charge by the Eagles to advance to the Division 1 Junior College National tournament held in Hutchinson, Kansas. The conference championship and the trip to the national tournament are both firsts for East Georgia.
The regular season champs jumped out to early 8-0 lead in the opening minutes to set up a near flawless first half. The Bobcats shot 55 percent from the field, hitting 16 of their 29 shot attempts and extending their early lead to 37-22 by the halftime buzzer. Led by All-League post player D.J. Felder’s 16 points and seven rebounds in the opening half, the Bobcats looked to be running away with the title, but the Eagles — ranked 14th in the nation and the only team to beat East Georgia in league play — fought back.
The Eagles began the second half in a half-court zone defense, forcing East Georgia into many shots taken early in the possession. Missed shots by the Bobcats allowed the Eagles to start their transition offense and led to seven made 3-pointers in the second half.
Struggling to find its offensive rhythm, East Georgia’s Tre’ Hagood came to the rescue. The Bobcats’ point guard caught fired down the stretch to record a double-double, ending the night with 23 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.
All-Tournament selection Malcolm Riley netted 27 points to lead Chattahoochee Tech and point guard Sean Tate added 18 more, but the Eagles couldn’t claw the whole way back.
GCAA Player of the Year Jordan Johnson didn’t have his best night for the Bobcats, but hit the biggest shot of the night. Johnson drained a contested jumper to stretch the East Georgia lead to eight points with a minute to play.
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 compete in the first round scheduled to begin on March 18.