OXFORD -- Forced to play without freshman point guard Alex Ordu, the Oxford College men's basketball team received vital scoring from sophomore Stephen Simmons and freshman Zachary Lynn on Saturday as the Eagles defeated Middle Georgia Tech 74-59 in the semifinals of the Georgia Collegiate Athletic Association Division III tournament.
The Eagles (21-9), the tournament's No. 3 seed, will face West Georgia Tech at 2 p.m. today for the conference title and a trip to the National Junior College Athletic Association Regionals next weekend in North Carolina.
West Georgia Tech, the tournament's No. 1 seed, defeated Georgia Northwestern Tech 91-64 earlier on Saturday.
Ordu suffered a concussion in practice on Monday, the same day he learned he was named the GCAA Player of the Year. He spent a couple of days in the hospital and was unable to suit up for Saturday's game and won't play today.
In his absence, however, Oxford received excellent play at just the right time from Simmons and Lynn.
A sophomore who missed a dozen games due to a knee injury, Simmons kept the Eagles in the game in the first half, connecting on 4 of 5 3-point attempts for 15 points as Oxford and Middle Georgia Tech wrestled to a 32-32 tie at intermission in a half that saw five ties and three lead changes.
Simmons got the Eagles off to a running start in the second half, scoring five quick points before turning things over to Lynn, who tallied two points in the first half and 18 in the final 20 minutes. Lynn finished with a game-high 21 points and Simmons added 20.
"We pretty much had all week to work Sam (Kim) into Alex's position and we knew it would be a different style of game, but we've been a unit all season and we knew somebody would step up," said Oxford coach Roderick Stubbs. "Everybody had to step up and I think we did a pretty good job. Stephen really led us in the first half by shooting extremely well. Middle Georgia started a box-and-one on him in the second half, which allowed Zach to get his shots."
"It was different tonight without Alex, but we knew we had to keep fighting and playing hard," Lynn said. "Stephen hit four or five 3-pointers in the first half and we knew they'd try to key on him in the second half. I knew I had to step up to keep up the pace."
Behind Simmons' superior shooting, Oxford held the advantage through the early part of the first half, but Middle Georgia Tech went on a 16-9 run and went up by eight points at 31-23 with 4:08 remaining on a free throw by Jeremy Walker.
The Eagles were able to slowly erase the Titans' lead, thanks in no small part to miserable free-throw shooting by Middle Georgia Tech and a sequence of plays that included a 3-pointer by Kevil Tolbert, a layup by Simmons and a big layup by Roman Woodburn off a steal and assist from Jason Levick with 1:05 remaining to tie the score a 32-32.
After capturing an early five-point lead in the second half, the Eagles never trailed again and made Middle Georgia Tech pay dearly for deciding to press Oxford early.
"In the first half, we didn't handle their press well and in the second half, we told our guys they'd continue to press us," Stubbs said. "As the game progressed, it got easier and easier to break the press."
The Titans also floundered at the free-throw line, connecting on only 12 of 27 foul shot attempts in the final half and started to get sloppy, committing 17 turnovers in the second half and generally managing but one shot per offensive possession.
"We knew they didn't shoot well from the outside, so we wanted to pack it in and only give them one shot," Stubbs said, noting that Middle Georgia Tech recorded but 18 offensive rebounds and had only two second-chance points. "We did an excellent job boxing out, considering how much bigger and more athletic they were."
Oxford led by as many as 15 points in the second half and got into the bonus early, although the Eagles' free-throw success (12 of 22) was only a little less unsightly than that of the Titans.
"We want to play defense without fouling, but we also knew they didn't shoot free throw well," Stubbs said. "We were hoping that trend would continue."
Kim, who was pressed into duty to run Oxford's offense for much of the game, added nine points and seven rebounds to the cause. Sophomore Evan Dunwoodie scored nine points, all in the final minutes of the game, and Kevin Tolbert and Woodburn contributed six points each.
For Middle Georgia Tech, Jeffrey Gulley led the way with 13 points and was followed by Dwayne Bryant (11 points) and Walker (10 points). The Titans shot 34.5 percent from the field and 22 percent (2 of 9) from beyond the 3-point arc.
Both Oxford and West Georgia Tech will have to turn right around today, and Stubbs felt his charges would be rested and ready.
"We've been working hard this week but we've also been resting our legs," he said. "We've been working hard all year for this. I know our guys will leave it all on the floor -- I guarantee you that.'
Notes: In Saturday's opener, West Georgia Tech had three players score in double figures -- Randalezzo Chaney led the Knights with 22 points and was paced by Blair Austin (16 points) and Demontray McCormick (17 points). ... Georgia Northwestern Tech also had three players with double digit points in Alex Miller (13 points), Justin Dempsey (12 points) and Bud Todd (10 points). ... In Oxford's two regular-season meetings with West Georgia Tech, the Eagles defeated the Knights 71-63 on Jan. 21 in Oxford and lost 79-71 on Jan. 28 in Carrollton. ... McCormick won the conference scoring title with an 18.3 point-per-game average and was named first-team all-region. ... West Georgia Tech coach Niki Okolovitch was named the conference's Coach of the Year.