CARROLLTON, Ga. - Sometimes, only a spark is need to ignite a fire. Perhaps that fire was lit for the West Georgia men's basketball program on Thursday evening in Cleveland, Miss., and the West Georgia faithful are looking for a continuation of that fire on Saturday at Mississippi College, with tipoff between the Wolves and Choctaws set for 5 p.m. (EST).
Until Thursday evening, the talented West Georgia squad had been relatively ineffective on the road, going 0-8 in road games up until the matchup with Delta State. That game was a challenge as well, as the Statesmen beat the Wolves by 20 in December, and the opportunity to allow Thursday night to slip away was there. Marquill Smith and William Sides were on fire in the first half, but Delta State continued to hang close.
With just over 10 minutes remaining in the game, DSU star forward P.J. Davis, who scored 18 against the Wolves back in December, scored six-straight points for the Statesmen, putting the homestanding DSU squad ahead by one at 51-50. That has been the point throughout the year that has been the undoing for the West Georgia Wolves. But then, just 11 seconds later, Paul Turner, who had been relatively quiet for most of the night, hit a 15-foot jumper to put West Georgia back into the lead.
Delta State brought the ball back down, but a missed three-pointer came down into the waiting hands of Aren Ulmer, who shot back down the court intent on pushing the Wolves ahead again. With his eighth and final assist of the night, Ulmer found Turner again, this time from three-point range and the Wolves were off to the races. UWG led by as many as eight points in the final 10 minutes, but that was the only lead of the night for the Statesmen.
But for head coach Michael Cooney and his charges, the first road victory of the season on Thursday needs to be but the tip of the iceberg. The Wolves are only 5-9 in Gulf South Conference play currrently and are two games out of a trip to the 2018 Gulf South Conference tournament with six games left in the regular season. Two of those six are against the top two teams in the league this year, Valdosta State and West Florida, so every game counts and can have a profound impact on the potential 28th game of the year in the postseason.
That race to the postseason continues on Saturday as the Wolves take on a Mississippi College Choctaws squad that comes into the contest with a 6-8 record in league play and a 9-10 record overall. MC has lost two straight and has won only twice since a 105-93 victory over Alabama Huntsville on Januaury 4. A team with significant size, the Choctaws present matchup problems for West Georgia, but in the first meeting, it was the Wolves that were the aggressor on the boards, outrebounding Mississippi College by a 45-41 margin.
The game was the first of the year for junior Paul Turner, and he had 26 points and 12 rebounds, just behind Marquill Smith, who had 27 points and 12 rebounds in the victory in Carrollton. Smith has been one of the elite players in the league this season, averaging 21.7 points per game and 8.2 rebounds, both of which put him among the top-5 in the Gulf South Conference. Another player to watch for West Georgia is Ulmer, who has had eight games this season with at least six assists, including each of the last two. He pushes the offense and the tempo for head coach Michael Cooney, and that will be a vital part of any success the Wolves may have on Saturday.