When Georgia Northwestern head coach David Stephenson put together his 2016-17 schedule, he filled it out with a handful of games against some new opponents, hoping to challenge his Bobcats against even tougher competition.
Included in the schedule was a home-and-home series with the Tennessee Wesleyan University junior varsity squad in what would be Georgia Northwestern's first-ever basketball meetings with the Bulldogs.
Stephenson admittedly had a little trepidation in putting TWU on the schedule. The Bulldogs' varsity team went 28-4 last year, was ranked in the Top 15 of the NAIA's Division II national poll and advanced to the national tournament.
This year, the varsity Bulldogs are currently 7-2, while the program's JV squad came to the Rossville Athletic Center on Tuesday night sporting a solid 6-4 record, including three wins in which they scored 100 or more points.
And they appeared destined to make it seven victories on the season when they opened up a 17-point lead on the Bobcats with just over 12 minutes to play.
That's when the home team put up one of the more remarkable runs in recent memory.
A full-court press, and a few words of wisdom by Stephenson during a timeout, got the Bobcats back on track and over the next seven-and-a-half minutes of action, Georgia Northwestern went on a dominating 23-5 run to take an improbable one-point lead with 4:31 to play.
With the momentum firmly on their side, the Bobcats never trailed again and thrilled the home crowd with an 83-74 victory that gave them a three-game winning streak and put them over .500 for the first time this season.
"I knew we were down by a lot, but I didn't know we were down by 17," Stephenson admitted. "The press worked, obviously, and we ran in some fresh legs at times and I don't know if this had anything to do with it or not, but I called a timeout (before the run started) and got kind of vocal."
Georgia Northwestern (3-2) was down by just three, 36-33, after a tight first half. But the Bulldogs would get hot from outside in the first eight minutes of the second half to take their biggest lead at 63-46 and force Stephenson to call timeout to try and stem the onslaught.
"I just challenged them," he explained. "I told them that they were acting like they didn't want to play and that if they didn't want to play, to just tell me and we could all pack up and go home and that's when we went to the press."
Two minutes later, the gap was down to nine points. Baskets by Andrew Johnson and Darrius Fugh chopped the lead to five with 8:30 to play and Darius Floyd hit 1 of 2 free throws 20 seconds later to go cap a 13-0 run.
The Bobcats would trim the Bulldogs' lead to a razor-thin one point as Fugh got free under the basket with 7:01 left, but Georgia Northwestern would miss two chances on their next possession that would have given them the lead. Yasmond Fenderson would sink two free throws with 5:41 to play to get the Bulldogs' lead back to three and temporarily stop the bleeding.
Tennessee Wesleyan's lead stood at 68-65 with an even five minutes remaining when Georgia Northwestern was finally able to make its last decisive run.
It began with a tough runner from Demonte Parker and a bucket by Fugh with 4:31 left finally put the Bobcats in front, 69-68. Alec Rattanaxay then hustled to make a steal and fed a wide open Daniel Parrish, who drained a 3-pointer that got the Bobcat bench to its feet.
A big offensive rebound by Fugh led to a basket by Rattanaxay, and following a Tennessee Wesleyan free throw, Parrish delivered another cold-blooded three-ball that boosted the Bobcats lead to 77-70 with two minutes to play.
Parker Morgan would finally break a nearly four-minute dry spell from the floor for the Bulldogs with a pair of short jumpers in the lane, but Fugh scored off a great inbound pass by Clynt Bell with 47 seconds left and the Bulldogs were forced to foul.
Parrish would hit two freebies, while Parker and Fugh would both hit 1 of 2 in the final 31 seconds as the Bobcats sealed the remarkable comeback.
Fugh had another huge night for the Bobcats, totaling 26 points and grabbing a team-high 15 rebounds. The sophomore from Rome is averaging 25.8 points so far this season and climbed an other rung on the all-time scoring ladder on Tuesday.
He passed recent Bobcat Hall of Famer Kyle Wilson (644 career points) for second on Georgia Northwestern's all-time list. Fugh now has 661 points in 32 career games (an average of over 20 points per contest) and is now just 59 points away from reaching Alex Miller's career mark of 720, set nearly five seasons ago.
Parrish, coming off a 21-point outing against the Bryan College JV this past Thursday, popped for 18, while Rattanaxay added 11 points and Johnson finished with eight.
"Looking at schedule before the year started, I thought this might be one of our toughest games," Stephenson explained. "I was hoping to get three wins before the (Christmas) break and this was not one of the three I was expecting to get. But I'll certainly take it going into the tournament this weekend."
Georgia Northwestern will open the 2016 Tim Walthour Memorial Tournament at the R.A.C. on Friday night with a 9 p.m. game against the Sabers of Barber-Scotia College from Concord, N.C. They will conclude the tournament with a 4 p.m. game on Saturday against Georgia Gwinnett College.
The Bobcats' final game before the holiday break will be at home on Monday, Dec. 12 when former region foe Southern Crescent Tech makes the trip up from Griffin.
Georgia Northwestern will travel to Athens for a rematch with the JV Bulldogs on Feb. 6.