OXFORD Oxford College guard Stephen Simmons' final shot attempt with 20 seconds remaining in Sunday's game -- came from beyond the 3-point arc and found nothing but net.
Unfortunately for the sophomore and his teammates, it was also his last shot as a member of the Eagles as West Georgia Tech defeated Oxford 66-52 at Williams Gymnasium to claim the Georgia Collegiate Athletic Association Division III championship.
With the victory, the Golden Knights (15-13) punched their ticket for this weekend's National Junior College Athletic Association regional tournament in North Carolina. Oxford ends its season at 21-9.
Although the Eagles trailed from the beginning of the game and fell behind by as many as 18 points in the second half, they matched West Georgia Tech in nearly every critical statistical category, most notably in rebounds (both teams had 48 each) and turnovers (Oxford had 15, the Golden Knights had 20).
But the biggest difference Sunday was in the shooting column, where the Eagles posted a disturbing 33 percent (21 of 64) success rate.
"We held them to a good shooting percentage (39 percent) and played solid defense against them," said Simmons, who led Oxford with 16 points. "They just made shots at critical times and we didn't. We had plenty of good looks that just went in and out. I don't want to take anything away from (West Georgia Tech) because they're a good team, but we just couldn't make our shots."
"The difference was they made shots and we didn't," added Oxford coach Roderick Stubbs. "Early on, we had so many open looks that didn't fall and they took advantage of that by making their shots in the opening minutes."
The Golden Knights jumped out to a quick six-point lead, but the Eagles who were again playing without GCAA Player of the Year Alex Ordu, who suffered a concussion early last week -- stayed close, despite two personal fouls called on starter Kevil Tolbert in the first 90 seconds of play.
A layup by Tory White at the 11:30 mark gave West Georgia Tech a 17-9 lead, but Oxford went on a 6-0 run with 8:40 remaining to pull within two points, which was as close as the Eagles got all day.
"They hit shots and executed," said Stubbs, whose team scored only 22 points in the first half. "It seems like every time we'd make a run at them, they'd go on a run of their own and extend the lead."
In a five-minute span in the first half, West Georgia Tech went on a 15-2 run as six different players scored to put the Golden Knights up by 13 points, which held up until halftime. In the second half, the Eagles managed to grind West Georgia Tech's advantage to eight points (40-32) with 13:10 remaining and again at the 9:40 mark (48-40), but within four minutes the Golden Knights held their biggest lead of the day at 59-41 on a 3-point play by Demario McNath.
"I was surprised at the final margin," said Stubbs. "We'd played them two tough games in the regular season and I figured this one would go down to the wire, too."
Stephens was followed by Tolbert, who tallied 10 points before fouling out, and Sam Kim, who recorded seven points and an impressive 17 rebounds. The Golden Knights had three players finish with double-digit points: Demontray McCormick (the conference's player of the year) had 16 points and nine rebounds, Blair Austin added 15 points and five rebounds and McMath contributed 12 points.
Although the Eagles' campaign had a disappointing conclusion, Stubbs said he was pleased with the campaign and Simmons added he's gained a great deal from his Oxford College experience.
"I'm proud of the guys," said Stubbs, who could have as many as eight returning players for the 2012-13 season. "They worked hard from the preseason to the postseason. To win 21 games is quite an accomplishment. We were one unit and we played well as a unit."
"It's been great here at Oxford," said Simmons, who last week was named second-team all-conference. "The academics are rigorous and basketball was tough, but I've learned a lot about dedication and persistence. You've got to take it all in stride and give it all you've got. I've been blessed to meet some great people here and I've been able to grow in the classroom and on the court. I've done a lot more than I thought I ever could."