CARROLLTON, Ga. - The script seemed to be already written. West Georgia goes on the road after suffering a tough loss on Monday, facing Lee Flames undefeated thus far in conference play. The Wolves were missing Marquill Smith, who was out with an injury. But the final act of that script was written by the youngest of the West Georgia Wolves, as three true freshmen scored in double-figures to lead the Wolves to a 70-66 victory over Lee at Paul Dana Walker Arena in Cleveland, Tenn. on Thursday evening.
Led by 18 points from Taj Fraley in his first start at UWG, the Wolves came back from an 11-point deficit the second half to take the victory. Jared Simmons scored 10 points alone in the final four minutes of the contest, including the go-ahead bucket with just under a minute to play. Michael Zabetakis had 13 in the game to round out the freshmen in double-figures on the night.
Missing one of the top scorers in the nation in senior guard Marquill Smith, the Wolves struggled out of the gate, as the Flames held UWG scoreless in the first four minutes of the contest. After the first media timeout, West Georgia picked up the offense, scoring four-straight to pull within a point at 5-4. The remainder of the first half would mirror that, as Lee would build a lead only to have the Wolves
In the final seconds of the first period, the Flames hit a pair of free-throws to take a 42-31 lead heading into the locker room at the break. Freshman Michael Zabetakis led the offense in the first half, scoring nine points while Gerald Blount pulled down five rebounds.
In the first seven minutes of the second half, the Wolves outscored the Flames on a 10-7 run, pulling to within eight at 49-43 with just over 12:00 left in the game. The Wolves continued to turn up the defensive pressure, and it paid off around the 8:00 mark, as active hands forced the ball free on the Lee end of the floor. Zabetakis passed it ahead to big Willie Barnes, who put it down with a dunk to cut the Lee advantage to 56-50. Seconds later, Zabetakis picked up another steal and finished the break himself this time with a dunk to make it 56-52 with 7:51 left in the game.
The Wolves continued to pressure the Flames, and the pressure paid off in a big way with 3:45 left in the game, as Jared Simmons hit back-to-back three-pointers, giving West Georgia their first lead of the game at 63-61. The two teams went back-and-forth down the stretch, but Simmons hit again with a layup in the final minute of the game, giving the Wolves a 67-65 lead.
Lee missed the back end of a two-shot foul with 20 seconds left in the game and Aren Ulmer came down with the rebound, taking off to the other end of the court. A Lee defender fouled Ulmer, which ended up being called intentional, giving the Wolves two shots and the ball. Ulmer buried both free-throws, then Gerald Blount hit another after he was fouled on the entry pass to give the Wolves the final advantage.
West Georgia moves to 10-5 on the year with a 5-2 record against Gulf South Conference opponents, while the Flames fall to 9-6 overall on the year and 6-1 in GSC play. The Wolves will be back in action in a week, taking on the Valdosta State Blazers in Valdosta, Ga. on January 17.