Montevallo headed to Peach Belt tournament semifinals

A win over North Georgia College and State University meant much more to the University of Montevallo men’s basketball team than simply the Falcons’ first ever Peach Belt Conference tournament victory March 3.

North Georgia, which handed the Falcons their first loss of the season in January and swept Montevallo in both meetings during the 2009-2010 regular season, had been a nemesis in one of the most successful seasons in school history.

The Falcons had the last laugh, as Montevallo ended North Georgia’s season with an 88-79 win over the Saints in the opening round of the Peach Belt Conference tournament at Bank Trust Arena.

Montevallo advanced to the PBC tournament semifinals March 6 at the USCA Convocation Center in Aiken, S.C., where the Falcons will meet top-ranked Augusta State University. Tip off is set for 5 p.m.

Augusta State defeated Montevallo 61-40 in the first meeting between the teams Feb. 13. The Falcons trailed by only one point with 12 minutes remaining before fading late.

Montevallo head coach Danny Young said the Falcons need to finish stronger to have a chance to advance to the Peach Belt Conference championship game.

“We’ve got to be ready to play,” Young said. “We didn’t score the last time we played them. It was like we had a lid (on the basket) for us. They’re an awfully good team. They’re tough to beat.”

Senior forward Gerald January led the Falcons (22-6) with 20 points. January, who grabbed six rebounds, hit 7-of-9 field goals and finished 6-of-7 at the charity stripe.

Junior forward Cecil Coleman added 17 points and pulled down a team-high 10 boards. Senior guard Freddy Little chipped in 16 points and six rebounds. Mark Plaza finished with 11 points and led Montevallo with seven assists.

North Georgia senior guard Carl Taylor led the Saints with 32 points. Junior forward Keldrick Coleman added 13 points and senior forward Bernard Rimmer, who began his career at Mississippi State, chipped in 11 points.

Montevallo shot better than 53 percent from the floor and shot 85 percent from the free-throw line. The Falcons struggled from beyond the arc as they hit only 2-of-10 attempts from long distance.

Montevallo also dominated inside, as the Falcons outscored North Georgia 46-26 in the paint.

“We went back to what we were doing early in the year,” Young said. “We went inside.”

The Falcons began the first half with a 9-2 run and closed the half with another 9-2 run to take a 41-32 lead into the locker room at halftime. Little sparked a run in the final minutes of the half with a basket, two free throws and a 3-pointer.

Montevallo extended its lead to double digits early in the second half before North Georgia made a run to close the gap to 55-52 with 11:30 remaining.

Plaza responded with a basket and a free throw, which sparked a 17-6 run. January had back-to-back buckets to help Montevallo push its lead to as many as 17 points late in the second half.

North Georgia made three 3-point baskets in the final 1:04, but the Falcons hit 9-of-10 free throws in the final minute to hold on for the nine-point win.