The Chargers avenged their most recent loss of the season, a February 7th 80-76 loss to the Western Alabama Tigers, by beating the Tigers 82-69 in the semifinal round of the Gulf South Conference tournament, and earning their 4th GSC finals appearance in the past 5 years.
The game started off close, but after Sam Orf’s three pointer five minutes in to make it 11-9 in favor of UAH, the Tigers never led again. They hung around the first half, and were a spectacular Sam Orf buzzer beating three away from being down only three at half time. They instead faced a 37-31 deficit.
UAH came out of the locker room strong, quickly pushing the lead to 11, where it would stay for the majority of the second half. Both teams played solid defense, and turned it over sparsely, but UAH led by Kaplan and Orf, hit shots, both inside and out, at a greater rate than the Tigers did. For the game the Chargers shot 54 % overall, and a very impressive 58% from three. The Tigers managed only 42% from the field, and a much lesser 30% from behind the arc.
It was the JJ. Kaplan show for most of the game, as he shot perfectly from behind the arc, and made several impressive shots from inside. Finishing with 31 points and 8 rebounds, he was the unquestioned MVP for the game, and in all likelihood of the whole tournament thus far. Seth Swalve and Sam Orf also had strong performances, each scoring 19 points.
UWA forward Charles Tripp was a formidable force as he led the Tigers in scoring with 21 points. Fellow forward Ricky Dunnaway dominated in the paint for stretches, on his way to 19 points, with a 70% field goal percentage.
This win was the 26th of the season for the Chargers, positioning them as a high seed in the NCAA Tournament, with hosting the quarterfinals still a definite possibility if they beat the Delta State Statesman on Sunday.
The Championship match-up will be played again in Birmingham, and with the introduction of Daylight Savings Time on Saturday evening, will have an even faster turnaround time than the 3:30 start time suggests. The Statesmen are the 5th seed in the tournament, and are coming off a hard earned one-point upset of the number one seed Valdosta State 70—69.
The Chargers, one of the hottest teams in the country, will have their hands full, but certainly have a competitive chance if they continue their effective shooting.