Commodores win again, advance to title game

By Dustin Kent
NICEVILLE — On Wednesday, Gulf Coast beat the No. 1 team in the country Florida Southwestern, giving the Buccaneers just their second loss of the season.

On Friday, the Commodores might have been even better. Gulf Coast (23-7) won its second game over a nationally-ranked team in the last three days, routing No. 19 Central Florida 105-84 in the semifinals of the FCSAA State Tournament.

The win sets up a championship matchup Saturday with Tallahassee, which won its semifinal 49-34 over Eastern Florida State.

With another victory, the Commodores will clinch a spot at the national tournament in Hutchinson, Kan.

They may have already done enough to get an at-large bid, though acting coach Scott Jackson said Friday that he and his players are taking nothing for granted.

“We’re not really worrying about that,” he said. “I think coach (Phil) Gaffney has been comparing our resume to other people. He thought if Tallahassee won and we both played each other (in the final) he’d feel pretty good about getting three teams in from Florida.

“But from my perspective, we just have to think that we have to win (Saturday) and take it out of the committee’s hands. We didn’t get a lot of national respect, ranking-wise, so we don’t want that to come into it.”

Gulf Coast (23-7) certainly played Friday like a team that believes it can win this tournament, taking charge early with high level defense and super efficient offense.

Central Florida (25-7) actually jumped out to a 7-2 lead to start the game, but the Commodores responded by scoring the next 16 points.

Cam Holden sparked the run with a 3-pointer followed by a nice dish off to Maurice Gordon for a dunk to tie the game.

Holden later found Grant Howard in the right corner for a 3-pointer, which was followed by another three from Holden and yet another triple from Howard to make it 18-7.

Holden continued to set the table for the Commodores as they pulled away, scoring on a follow dunk after a Jacolbey Owens miss and a driving bank shot, and then finding Derrick Hardin underneath for a dunk to make it 31-13.

A transition bucket by Davonta Cook plus the foul put the Commodores up by 21 points with 4:21 left in the first half.

The Patriots cut the margin to 17 at the halftime break and used a 9-0 run in the second half to get to within 12 at 70-58 with 10 minutes remaining.

Holden answered with a nice spinning bank shot in the lane, and moments later came up with a steal and found Owens for a driving basket plus the foul to push the lead up to 16.

An offensive rebound and putback of his own miss by Holden, two free throws by Owens, and a left corner three from Jammy Pierre-Louis extended the Gulf Coast edge to 82-61 with seven minutes remaining.

The Patriots got no closer than 18 points the rest of the way.

Holden finished with a game-high 24 points to go with five rebounds, three assists, and five steals, while Owens added 17 points and Howard 15 points.

Gordon had 13 points and seven rebounds, while Cook and Pierre-Louis scored 10 points each.

Wayln Napper led the Patriots with 23 points, with Latrell Jones adding 21 points.

Gulf Coast shot 56.7 percent from the field for the game, including 7 of 15 from the 3-point line and 30 of 39 from the free throw line.

Central Florida converted 42 percent from the field and made just 3 of 22 from beyond the arc.

“I think our defense was maybe the best we’ve played for a long time, especially in the first half,” Jackson said. “We executed our game plan I think better than anything else. We knew what we wanted to do against them. We knew they would play zone and we shot them out of it. In the second half, we did what we needed to do to win.”

Gulf Coast can now turn its attention to an Eagles squad it knows quite well. The Commodores won two of the three regular season matchups against the Panhandle Conference champions, including a triple overtime thriller in the regular season finale on a half-court buzzer-beater by Gordon to get into the state tournament.

The Commodores also beat Tallahassee 75-73 in the other meeting in Panama City, while the Eagles won 89-71 in the only meeting in Tallahassee.

“Well, we definitely know each other real well,” Jackson said. “We both know what the other wants to do. I know they’re gonna have a mentality to want to come out and beat us because of what happened in the last game, so I think they’ll be ready to play us. It will just come down to whatever teams goes out and makes the most plays.”


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