Golden Tigers upset in opening game of SIAC tournament


ATLANTA, Ga. – What figured to be a promising postseason for the Golden Tigers came to disappointing end before it barely began Thursday night.

The Golden Tigers, the No. 1 seed in the SIAC Tournament for the first time since 1983, suffered an 80-77 upset loss to Fort Valley State in their opening game after earning a first-round bye. They had defeated the Wildcats twice during the regular season, including a 69-62 win at the James Center six days earlier.

But Desmond Lofland drained a desperation three-pointer from midcourt as time expired, stunning the crowd at Forbes Arena on the Morehouse College campus in Atlanta and sending the Golden Tigers packing. 

The Golden Tigers, who were trying to win the SIAC visitation and tournament championships in the same season for the first time since the 1947-48 and advance to the NCAA Division II tournament for the second time in three seasons, end the season 16-11.

“The loss was disappointing because we didn’t attain the goal we set out to achieve.’’ Coach Leon Douglas said. “We wanted to win both (the visitation and tournament championships and compete in NCAA Tournament. We got one trophy. We have to take that as a positive.’’

Fort Valley State, which trailed by 16 points in the early going, needed to go the length of the floor with 19 seconds showing on the clock  to score after Calvin Thomas made a pair of free throws to knot the score at 77-all.

Lofland got the ball, dribbled to his right before turning back to his left and letting the ball fly.

“It was a prayer,’’ Douglas said. “The ball had eyes.’’

Lofland, who had 19 points, and Brandon Davey, who led the Wildcats with 26 points, tormented the Golden Tigers from behind the three-point line throughout the game. Lofland connected on three of five attempts, and Davey was 5-for-8. The Wildcats shot a sizzling 43% (10-for-23) on three-pointers.

The Golden Tigers contributed to their demise with 24 turnovers, which led to 24 points for Fort Valley State.

The Golden Tigers started the game with a 16-0 run and appeared to set to make short work of the Wildcats. Fort Valley State scored its first bucket of the night on a three-pointer by Davey, with an assist from Lofland. The Wildcats patiently whittled away at the lead, but the Golden Tigers were still ahead by10 points, 35-25, with 5:04 left in the half. However, the Wildcats ended the half on a 13-2 run, and the Golden Tigers trailed by a point, 38-37, at the intermission.

The Golden Tigers found themselves in deep foul trouble as Fort Valley State staged its rally.  Thomas, Joshua Eichelberger, Kevin May – all starters – and Javier McKinney, key backup, had two personal fouls each.

Thomas, who scored 20 points, May and McKinney, who had 16 points, were able to avoid further foul trouble. But Eichelberger eventually fouled out with 3:30 left in the game after playing 29 minutes and scoring 26 points and pulling down 13 rebounds.

The game turned at the free throw line in the first half. Fort Valley State, which was 14-for-24 from foul shots in the game, was 9-for-16 in the first 20 minutes while the Golden Tigers were 1-for-1. The Golden Tigers were perfect from the foul line on the night, making all 14 of their attempts.

“It wasn’t a well officiated contest at all,’’ Douglas said. “It was one of those nights.’’

Fort Valley State held onto the lead until the 10:50 mark when Kevin May’s three-pointer gave the Golden Tigers a 58-57 advantage. Undaunted, the Wildcats surged ahead once again and built a seven-point lead with 7:56 left only to have the Golden Tigers go ahead 68-67 on a pair of free throws by Derrick White with 5:07 showing on the clock. Neither team led by more than two points the rest of the way before Lofland connected on the winning shot, and the score was tied three times.

 “It was an interesting, somewhat stressful season,’’ Douglas said, alluding to the fact that eight players left the team for various reasons after the season began and he was forced to revamp the undersized Golden Tigers’ style of play. “There were many ups and downs. It was rewarding because a lot of people didn’t think we could achieve with the group we had. We overachieved. The guys kept working and maintained the mission statement.’’

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