March 8, 2013

North Georgia Bounces Back to Best Armstrong 77-75 with Strong Second Half in PBC Quarterfinals

COLUMBUS, Ga. – The University of North Georgia men's basketball team, a team known for its three-point prowess, hit only one three-pointer Friday afternoon, but it came when it was needed most: in the closing seconds of regulation to tie the game. The Saints fought back from a 14-point deficit at halftime  to win by two, 77-75, over Armstrong Atlantic State University in the 2013 Marvin Vanover Peach Belt Conference Touranment quarterfinals.

The Saints' lone trey came with 20 seconds remaining in regulation when sophomore Travis Core drilled a wide-open look from the top of the key off a dish by senior Scott Windom. On the ensuing possession, Ishmael Hollis swiped the ball away from the Pirates and was fouled, sending the 74% free throw shooter to the line for a pair of free throws that he nailed to win the game.

North Georgia (16-11), which entered the tournament as the No. 2 seed out of the West Division, ended the game shooting 40.6% (28-69) from the field after boucncing back from a tough first half that saw them trailing the Pirates (15-12) from the opening tip. For their part, the Pirates of Armstrong, the third-seed out of the East, shot 45.2% (14-31) in the opening stanza behind All-PBC First Team selectin Aric Miller's 22 points.

However, North Georgia came out in the second half with a renewed game plan that isolated Miller, the nation's sixth-leading scorer, and held him to just five second half points. Armstrong ended the game shooting 38.1% (24-63) from the field.

The Saints, making their first appearance in the tournament field since 2010, finished the game with four players in double-digit points led by Windom's double-double of 16 points and 11 rebounds. Lamar Richardson was the second-leading scorer for North Georgia with 14 points. Richardson entered the game fifth in the nation in three-pointers per game, but scored all of his points inside the three-point arc; only the third time this season that has happened.

Also scoring in double-digits for North Georgia were Hollis, the Saints' All-PBC Second Team selection, and Victor Holder both with 10.

Armstrong made the tournament for the first time in three years and was led Friday by Miller's 27 points as he went 6-15 from the field, but 12-13 from the charity stripe. He also scored three of the Pirates' five three-pointers.

Teammate Antroine Williford was the only other Pirate to finish the game in double figures as he recorded a double-double of 13 points and 11 boards. Every member of Armstrong's squad that took the floor scored in the contest.

The Saints mounted their second half comeback right away out of the break with four straight points, eventually cutting the deficit to single-digits when Windom hit a free throw four minutes into the stanza.

Richardson would then give the Saints their first lead of the game off a pair of free throws of his own with 7:38 remaining before Core scored the next eight points for North Georgia to keep them within one point of the Pirates.

With 2:16 left on the clock, Williford converted a three-point play off a layup free throw to set the score at 75-70, a lead the Pirates could not hold on to as Windom, Core and Hollis combined to close the gap and win the game off the last-second heroics.

North Georgia advances to the semifinal round for the second time, first since the 2008 tournament, and will play the University of South Carolina Aiken, the two-time reigning regular-season champions. The Pacers, the No. 1 seed out of the East Division, beat Clayton State University, the No. 4 seed out of the West, 85-71 in Friday's first game. The Saints and Pacers will tangle at 6:00 p.m. on Saturday, Mar. 9.