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Commodores claim first state title in 48 years

By Dustin Kent
NICEVILLE — After two straight wins over nationally-ranked teams in the FCSAA State Tournament, including No. 1 Florida Southwestern State, Gulf Coast’s head coach Phil Gaffney and acting coach Scott Jackson thought the Commodores had done enough to get a bid to the national tournament.

After Saturday night’s 71-63 victory over Tallahassee, they no longer have to worry about that.

The Commodores clinched a berth at the NJCAA Division I National Championship tournament in Hutchinson, Kan., by beating their Panhandle Conference rival Tallahassee in Saturday’s region final to earn the program’s first crown since 1972.

The Commodores (24-7) did it despite losing first-year head coach Phil Gaffney to a heart attack on Jan. 18 that has kept him off the sideline since, while also losing starting point guard KK Godwin to injury and then suspension for all but two conference games.

Gulf Coast needed a half-court buzzer-beater by Maurice Gordon to beat Tallahassee 108-107 in triple overtime in the regular season finale just to get into the state tournament, and the Commodores rode that momentum to three straight impressive wins in Niceville.


After beating the top-ranked Buccaneers 75-68 on Wednesday – giving them just their second loss this season – the Commodores routed No. 19 Central Florida 105-84 on Friday.

On Saturday, Gulf Coast out-fought the rival Eagles (27-6) for the third time in four meetings this season, with Jacolbey Owens leading the way with 23 points, including 14 points in the second half.

Owens converted 9 of 12 shots from the field and 3 of 4 from the 3-point line, while Cam Holden added 11 points, seven rebounds, four assists, and three steals en route to being named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.


Travon Mayo also had 11 points, with Davonta Cook contributing 10 points, and Maurice Gordon eight points and seven rebounds.

El Ellis led the Eagles with 12 points, followed by Tariq Silver with 11 points and 10 rebounds, and Jordan Guest with 10 points and six rebounds.

Gulf Coast got out to a red-hot start to the game, going on an 18-2 run featuring five points and three assists from Holden, who finished a three-point play after a steal to make it 23-7.

Tallahassee answered with one of its patented runs, outscoring the Commodores 23-5 over the next seven minutes to grab a two-point lead on a basket inside by Guest.

The Commodores took a one-point edge into the halftime break and Owens started to take charge early in the second half, opening the scoring with a tough driving basket, and then following with a 3-pointer to put GC up 42-38.

A 10-2 TCC run capped by a driving layup by Ellis gave the Eagles their biggest lead at 48-44, but Cook answered with a big three to spark a 9-0 spurt, with Holden scoring on a spinning bank shot and Owens adding buckets on a tough driving finish and a dribble pull-up jumper to make it 53-49 Gulf Coast.

Mayo made a tough spinning shot in the lane off glass plus the foul to make it 58-53, and Kaylein Marzette dished to Jammy Pierre-Louis for a jumper from the left baseline to give Gulf Coast a seven-point edge with 7:20 to play.

A follow dunk by Guest and a 3-pointer from Yahel Hill trimmed the deficit to 64-60 with 3:36 on the clock.

After a pair of free throws by Gordon, the Commodores got a defensive stop and Owens nailed a dagger 3-pointer from the top of the key to make it a nine-point lead with just over a minute to play.

Owens then put the finishing touches on the win by breaking through the Tallahassee pressure and driving to the rim, taking the contact, and getting his shot to roll in to make it 71-63 with 44 seconds remaining.

This wasn’t necessarily the final meeting of the season between Gulf Coast and Tallahassee, with the Eagles most likely in line to get an at-large bid to Hutchinson along with Florida Southwestern State.

The national tournament runs March 16-21 at the Hutchinson Sports Arena.

 

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