There’s no panic in the voice of Georgia Highlands College head men’s basketball coach Phil Gaffney as he talks about his team’s season heading into the conference semifinals.
But he’ll admit their road to another Georgia Collegiate Athletic Association and NJCAA Region XVII championship is populated with a few more obstacles than in recent seasons.
Gaffney and the GHC Chargers will continue their drive to a possible fourth straight conference title tonight as they host the GCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four at The Corral. Central Georgia Tech and South Georgia State tip off at 5:30 p.m., while Georgia Highlands faces South Georgia Tech at 7:30 p.m.
The winners will meet Saturday afternoon for the championship. As the No. 1 seed, the Chargers are hoping to carry over every bit of momentum they can muster to make sure they can celebrate on their home court once again.
“You would like to think at home we would have a good shot,” Gaffney said. “We’re 32-1 in our last 33 home conference games and 55-4 in our last 59 conference games. You think that would give you a good advantage heading into this weekend. But to be honest, we can lose to anybody. There’s a little bit more of a focus that we’ve really got to play well.”
What the Chargers’ season boils down to is this weekend. Because in the past, when they’ve entered the GCAA Final Four with a 30-1 record, there was always the safety net of an at-large bid to the NJCAA tournament in Hutchinson, Kansas.
Coming in at 20-9 this year means they will more than likely need to claim the conference title for the fourth time in a row or end a three-year streak of making the national tournament.
One factor has been the experience on Georgia Highlands’ roster. While its status as a junior college leads to a fair share of turnover between each season, Gaffney said losing the amount of talent they did from last year’s team put an extra strain on the start of this season.
Gone are players like Ty’lik Evans and Kyvon Davenport, who are finding success in NCAA Division I with Savannah State and Memphis, respectively. There’s also Terrence Thompson, who is starting at Wake Forest, Kamar McKnight at Tennessee State, and Ty Cockfield at Arkansas State.
“You take all those guys away from that team, and we have D’Andre Bernard back. He’s a good player, but he didn’t start last year,” Gaffney said. “We don’t have those two or three dominating players that returned from last season, and it’s been tough.”
Gaffney said they still follow the fast-paced, gritty brand of basketball he’s worked to install the last six seasons. They just have to work to limit turnovers and giving up rebounds.
The Chargers also played a tougher first half of the season, playing seven games against teams who were either nationally ranked or were in the national tournament last season and going 2-5.
The second half has brought back Georgia Highlands’ confidence, especially after winning 11 of its first 12 following the winter break. The team has also found some solid leaders on the court in sophomore guards TaJuan Johnson and Demarcus Addie.
Johnson is averaging 16 points per game and five rebounds, while Addie, who led the team to a 91-76 victory over Andrew College in the conference quarterfinals Tuesday, is posting 15.4 points per game.
“We’ve all played well. The team’s clicking well,” Johnson said. “Our defense is doing everything we need to win, and we’re taking care of business.”