With two regular season games remaining, the men’s basketball team has secured its bid into the PBC tournament, eyeing a postseason run that will throttle them deep into the playoffs.
After an 0-4 start that included two losses by two points to USC Aiken early in the season, the Bobcats bounced back offensively and defensively.
“We have good forwards, Isaac and Kohl, obviously two of the better rebounders in the conference, as well as good guard play, with Dez [Desmond Mitchell-LaFlam] playing 39 minutes and J.T. [Jordan Thomas] playing 37 minutes a game, along with some other guys [like] Justin Cave and Chapin Rierson,” said head coach Mark Gainous.
Gainous expressed that this 2019 roster is extremely versatile and balanced, allowing for a moderate paced type of play and effective use of forwards.
While the Bobcats favored man-to-man defense early in the season, they were losing some tough games, so the strategy began to shift.
“I made the decision at the break to play more zone defense, but not your traditional zone,” Gainous said. “More like a match-up zone defense where somebody has the ball at all times.”
This special defense type incorporates man-to-man principles but is still considered zone-defense-style play. The use of “triangle and two” as well as the standard 1-1-3 zone defense has enabled the Bobcats to keep opponents offenses at bay.
Gainous said that every player on the roster has been instrumental to this successful 15-11 season.
“With Kohl comes size and skill,” Gainous said. “He’s 6-foot-7 and the biggest player we have on our team. He rebounds the ball at such a high rate. [Then] you have Isaac who is a great rebounder and great passer.”
Senior Isaac Thomas is known for being extremely well-rounded. He is the only player, according to GC athletic director Al Weston, that is in the Top 10 in GC history in points, rebounds, steals, assists and blocked shots.
Sophomore Chapin Rierson is also a standout player on the Bobcat basketball team, Gainous said.
“[Rierson] is very dependable,” Gainous said. “He can get hot from three and is very smart. He can make shots, drive the ball pretty well and is very consistent.”
Some nights, Rierson will go off for 15 or 20 points which spurs the team’s success. The 6-foot-5 athlete can also play both the guard and forward position, or whatever the team needs at the time.
Jordan Thomas is the Bobcat’s leading scorer and an accurate shooter, while Desmond Mitchell-LaFlam leads the team in assists and can make the three-point shot at a high percentage.
“Everybody brings something a little bit different to the table,” Gainous said.
The second matchup against Clayton State was considered a big win for GC as it settled them in a safe spot within the conference, while the Flagler game was the biggest of the year because at that point, the Bobcats had nine wins, Flagler had five and there were only four games left. The Bobcats made sure Flagler could not mathematically pass them in the standings.
“Everytime they [the team] have lost a game, they always bounce back and are very resilient,” Gainous said.
In preparation for the tournament the team is working on free-throw shooting as a whole, while three-point percentage, shooting percentage and minimizing turnovers remain their strengths.
“I think we are playing well, and while I don’t think we have hit our stride yet, we’re not at our peak, so that’s good,” said Thomas. ”Hopefully, we’ll hit the peak while we’re in the tournament, not before or not at all.”
A moment Thomas said he won’t forget is when the Bobcats beat nationally ranked UNC Pembroke on Saturday, Jan. 12.
“It was a very fun night,” Thomas said. “The crowd was into it, I dunked the ball four times, so I had eight points on all dunks. It was memorable overall.”
Thomas said that the team’s goal is to advance beyond the PBC tournament and into the NCAA tournament.
Desmond Mitchell-LaFlam, the Bobcats leader in assist, said his technique is making sure he gets to the ball on time when players are in scoring position.
LaFlam said his highlight memory of the season was when the Bobcats came back from a 19 point deficit at halftime, beating Columbus State by remaining focused and not worrying about the score.
“We have to be resilient,” LaFlam said. “The biggest thing is getting stops on defense because we can score, we just have to focus on defense.”
Photos courtesy of GC Sports Information