Off to the dance Falcons to make first appearance in NCAA tourney

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 10, 2004

The University of Montevallo defeated the State University of West Georgia 77-65 in the Gulf South Conference Tournament Championship at the BancorpSouth Center in Tupelo, Miss. Sunday for their first-ever GSC title.

It is the second GSC title for UM, who claimed the Men’s Soccer championship in 1999.

UM will as a school, be making their second trip to a NCAA regional. Women’s Volleyball earned the berth in 2000.

UM began building their lead (14-10) with a 3-point basket by Tamarcus Mitchell with 12:24 remaining in the first half. That begin a 15-4 run to expand their lead to 29-14 with seven minutes to play.

However, UWG was not ready to fold. The Braves came back and cut the lead to two points (35-33) with one minute remaining after Rob Neal hit three 3-point baskets and the Braves made 6-of-7 shots from the field and 4-of-4 free throws.

With just under a minute to play, Dayton Miller stepped up for the Falcons and drained a 3-point basket to give the Falcons some insurance before taking a five point lead (38-33) at halftime.

The Falcons scored early in the second half, but the Braves rallied to tie the game within the first two minutes of play 41-41, the closest they would come to the Falcons.

&uot;It was very emotional, you know that when you make a run the other team is going to try to make a run right back, we just had to stay in there and keep guarding,&uot; said Miller of the pace of the game.

UM outscored the Braves 36-24 from there on out to hold on for the championship.

D.J. Towns led the Falcons in scoring with 19 points including five 3-point baskets.

&uot;Sometimes I caught the ball and I saw that there was no one on me or coming to me it kind of surprised me. I didn’t know whether to shoot or pass,&uot; said Towns who had been double teamed for most of the season.

Miller contributed with 11 points, hitting three 3-point baskets, while Tamarcus Mitchell scored 10 points including two 3-pointers. The Falcons made 11 3-pointbaskets in the game. Marcus Lewis led the Falcons with nine rebounds.

Darnell Miller scored 20 for the Braves, while Jonathan James had 15 and Neal 13.

As the final 10 seconds rolled off the clock, the Braves began congratulating the champions, with former Falcon Bert Mosley giving hugs to UM players.

&uot;It’s been a great tournament for us and the kids have played very hard. It’s been a great ride,&uot; said head coach Danny Young.

Young, former head coach at Salem International, guided that team to seven consecutive NCAA regional appearances, two as head coach. He will be making his eighth consecutive trip to the national tournament.

At the beginning of the season the media guide cover read &uot;Under Construction.&uot; Four months later the Montevallo Falcons are GSC Champions.

&uot;Once we got together and start to get to know we started thinking we could (win the conference) but we didn’t imagine,&uot; said Kenny Cooper, the only returning Falcon from last season’s 4-25 team.

The Falcons charged out of the gate at the beginning of the season with a style of play that fans would not see again until Tupelo, tough defense, strong rebounding and 3-point shooting.

UM held their three opponents in the GSC Tournament to under 35 percent shooting from the field, and held UWG to 33.3 percent.

Towns was named Tournament Most Outstanding Player, while Caleb Kennedy was selected as a member of the GSC All-Tournament team.

UM (21-9) will move forward with their first 30-plus game season since the 1993-94 season, as they advance to the NCAA South Regional Tournament for the first time ever. UM is the No. 8 seed in the tournament, and will meet tourney host and No. 1 seed Valdosta State University in the opening round game Saturday at a time to be announced