Newcomers propel Bobcats to home PBC win

Jan. 29—There was a coming-out party for some college basketball careers Saturday at The Centennial Center.

In Ryan Aquino's starting lineup for only the fourth time in the 2023-24 season, redshirt freshman Aidan Kudlas didn't have any team-leading numbers when Georgia College & State University faced the 12-5 Georgia Southwestern State Hurricanes. Another redshirt freshman, Oscar Lynch, played for only the 10th time as a Bobcat.

A struggling GCSU men's club took the Hurricanes to double overtime Saturday, and it was these two newcomers who made the second extra five minutes the last in favor of the home team. The Bobcats outscored the Hurricanes 16-6 to take the victory 97-87. It was only the second Peach Belt Conference win of the season for Aquino's group, but it was the second in a row after an eight-game losing skid that included six in the PBC.

Georgia College & State University never trailed in the second overtime, so the game-winning basket is credited to Lynch with his fourth 3-pointer. That gave him 14 points for the game. He would later contribute a big offensive rebound helping get Kudlas to the free-throw line.

Kudlas only had one point during the first half of play, but then 10 came from his hands after intermission. He tipped in a field goal during the second overtime, and for the game he was 5-for-8 at the charity stripe.

Brady Spence is also a Bobcat newcomer this season, though from a different route as a graduate transfer from The Citadel. In the second OT, the 6-9 Spence scored two assisted baskets by Brendan Rigsbee and Austin Sloan to give him 12 points to go with 12 rebounds.

Rigsbee made 10-of-14 foul shots to build his team-leading point total to 22. He was also second in rebounds with seven. Sloan scored 13 points and had the team high in assists with six.

The Bobcats brought their overall record to 9-9 but are still in the bottom half of the Peach Belt standings at 2-6. Also in that bottom half is this Wednesday's opponent at The Centennial Center, Augusta University. Only two seasons ago, Augusta was playing for the NCAA Division II national championship but now owns records similar to the Bobcats.

Aquino had a strategy of wholesale substitutions in Saturday's game. Georgia Southwestern was leading 7-6 when the first five-for-five lineup change was made, and it paid immediate dividends with two straight 3-pointers by Luke Chism and AJ James. Also in the new group was 6-10 Dallas Clayton of New Zealand, and he shined on defense with a hustling block.

James had all eight of his points in the first half, and Richard Crawford III's only field goal coming off the bench, good for 3, was part of six first-half lead changes between the two sides.

What put the Hurricanes in control, however, before halftime was the turnover total, seven by GCSU. The Hurricanes scored 14 off of takeaways. Though Spence would feed Rigsbee on a baseline cut to bring the Bobcats within one, 29-28, the last four shots GSW made came from behind the 3-point arc. Two were after turnovers.

The Hurricanes owned an 11-point lead, 41-30, at the break. But for almost four minutes to start the second half, the Bobcats held their visitors to just one field goal. Spence and Sloan aided each other in what was a 15-2 GCSU run. Sloan, along with Lynch, each stuck in 3-point baskets.

But when the home team went ahead by two, 45-43, GSW woke up and scored eight in a row. In second-chance scoring, the Hurricanes had a major advantage, 17 points to six. Some of that came on the spurt to give them a seven-point lead at 57-50.

Lynch and Sloan connected for two more 3's. Seeing his team down 61-59, Kudlas got into the flow in a significant manner with his defense. His steal and assist set up another Sloan 3-ball. That was the start of an 8-0 run Kudlas capped himself penetrating to the basket.

However, a 67-61 lead wouldn't last long. Kudlas did find Spence for what would be GCSU's last field goal of regulation. The Bobcats were up 69-66 only to see the Hurricanes make multiple trips to the line. Four made shots later the hosts were down by one with less than a minute to go.

GCSU earned possession on a jump ball at 35.2 seconds. There was a timeout, then a game-winning shot attempted by Crawford. What he got was his own chance at two free throws, but only made one.

In the first overtime, Rigsbee, Kudlas and Lynch all made baskets to get the Bobcats leading 79-76 with less than two minutes left on the five-minute clock. The Hurricanes would beat the shot-clock buzzer to get within one. Two GC foul shots made the visitors need 3 for another tie, and that's what they got on a second opportunity at 2.2 seconds.