The regular season may not have ended how the Georgia Highlands men’s basketball team had wanted, but they got an injection of freshness to open up the postseason.
Conference player of the year Trevin Wade recorded a double-double and Jamal Burke pulled down 17 rebounds as the Chargers found their momentum early and took down South Georgia Tech 81-69 on Tuesday night at home to start the Georgia Collegiate Athletic Association tournament.
Georgia Highlands coach JJ Merritt, in his first year at the helm of the program, said they put in new starters for the quarterfinal matchup after losing to No. 1 seed Central Georgia Tech on Saturday to take the No. 2 seed into the tournament.
“We had switched up the starting lineup. And it was just to try to get some guys going. They had been inconsistent at the beginning over the last couple games,” Merritt said.
The team now travels to Macon on Friday to play South Georgia State in the semifinals at Central Georgia Tech. A win would put them in Saturday’s championship at 3 p.m. against either the host Titans or Andrew College.
“Just stay focused and believe in each other,” Merritt said when asked what his team needs to keep in mind heading into Friday’s game. “Like I told them in the locker room, enough said. No more talking. You’ve got to have actions.”
Tuesday’s game started out with both teams feeling each other out and neither taking solid control with seven lead changes in the first 14 minutes. Georgia Highlands got a jolt of energy when Wade got a steal on the Jets’ end of the court and took it all the way in for a dunk with 6:53 to go to give the Chargers a 28-26 lead.
Georgia Highlands (23-7) rode the energy to go on a 14-4 run while South Georgia Tech failed to make another field goal during the final six minutes of the half. The Chargers held a 46-36 advantage going into the break.
Merritt said freshman Felix Gue had an important part in the run and that the reserve player did his job.
“Felix came in and provided what we were just basically wanting to him to do; energy, energy, energy. He actually was really the catalyst for that run that we made at the end of the half. The tips on the ball, the way he was pressing, the way he was trapping,” Merritt said. “So I give all the credit to that run as a team, but Felix came in and did a great job.”
The second half started much the way the first had ended, with the Chargers quickly getting back in rhythm to go on a 14-1 run while South Georgia Tech labored to try an get the ball to drop from the field. With 12:43 left to play, Georgia Highlands had taken a 60-41 lead and were in full control through to the end.
Wade finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds as the sophomore played in his final game in front of a home crowd. Cahiem Brown came off the bench and scored 20 points while going 10-of-11 from the foul line.
“I love this approach that Trevin has taken to the playoffs and what he’s is about is unfinished business,” Merritt said. “I mean afterwards, he didn’t even want us to celebrate. So that’s what it means to him and how he wants to leave his mark on Georgia Highlands College basketball.”
Tajah Fraley and Nicolas Huteau each had 12 points for the Chargers. South Georgia Tech (13-18) was led by Justin Johnson’s 19 points.