After laboring through a toilsome 10-game losing streak, the University of West Georgia men’s basketball coach broke back into the win column behind a 54-47 Gulf South Conference victory over Delta State at The Coliseum.
“I’m proud of our guys, because that’s a tough team. Just tough, hard-nosed. They grind you on both sides — they grind you down here on defense and they grind you down there on offense. I thought our defense, forcing those turnovers and getting themselves some easy lay-in opportunities, and really doing a nice job of defending the post in the second half. They didn’t get it in there much. They did in the beginning of the first half, but in the second half, Sean [Boston], Brett [Seljak] and even Zach Taulien, Dan Trimble, they did a really nice job in there,” Cooney said.
The opening half featured four lead changes and five ties before the Wolves (8-16, 5-11 GSC) overcame a five-point deficit with a 9-1 run to take a 24-21 lead into the locker room. UWG then built its biggest lead of the night by opening the second half on a 9-0 run to go up 33-21 before the Statesmen (9-15, 5-11) got their first points of the second half at the 14:44 mark.
Delta State hung tough, though, cutting the deficit to three points on back-to-back 3-pointers by Terry Leake and Cornell Knight with 3:35 to play, but the Wolves were able to hold on to the victory in large part due to a tremendous defensive effort and a strong overall performance from senior point guard Quincy Hill.
Hill’s bucket with 1:08 remaining pushed UWG back up by five and Delta State committed an offensive foul and a turnover in its next two possessions, resulting in the Wolves shooting eight free throws in the final minute, connecting on five of them.
Hill led all scorers with 21 points on 7-of-14 shooting from the field and a 7-of-10 effort at the line. The bruising point guard from Oakland also pulled down six rebounds with four assists, two steals and only one turnover in 38 minutes of action.
“He just attacked the rim all night. They were even spacing him and he was still able to knife through there. He’s about as dangerous with the ball as anybody. He played a great game and played a ton of minutes,” Cooney said. “He plays 38 minutes and he played about 38 minutes on Thursday night, so just a heck of an effort.”
West Georgia committed just seven turnovers as a team on Saturday, including only two in the second half compared to 16 for DSU. Saturday marked the second consecutive game UWG finished under the 10-turnover mark, and Cooney said getting some guys back healthy has helped in that regard.
“We’re playing really high-quality offensive basketball, shots are starting to fall for us a little bit. I think you’re going to see Spencer Ford and Dan Trimble stepping out and shooting some 3s to try to get that 3-ball going. But Brett helped us, too. We haven’t really had him for three weeks. I played him a little bit Thursday night to get him going and I just feel better with him out there. He’s an experienced player,” Cooney said.
Hill was the only UWG player to reach double figures offensively, as Seljak posted eight, Deontre Brown finished with seven and Thomas Higginbotham added five. Leake led DSU with 17 points.
Cooney now hopes the win will allow his players to relax a little and pick up some momentum heading toward the GSC Tournament. UWG closes out the regular season this week with a jaunt to North Alabama on Thursday and a home tussle against Union on Saturday.
“I know the win-loss record doesn’t show it, but we’ve been playing very competitively. I believe if we have Brett Seljak and Quincy Hill against West Alabama, we win that game. We lost it by four. We went to Valdosta and played that thing to the wire, we took West Florida to the wire. Thursday night, a basket here or there, we beat CBU. So we’re getting where we need to be. Now you’ve got to go to Flowers Hall on Thursday night against a real explosive North [Alabama] team. We have to figure out a way to beat them. We’re capable of doing that,” Cooney said.
“It’s really simple. We’ve got to make lay-ins, we’ve got to make free throws and continue guarding. Don’t change anything we’re doing defensively, but we’ve got to make those lay-ins and we’ve got to make those free throws. If we do it, we can win Thursday night.”