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Holiday Classic last stop before Panhandle Conference play

December 26, 2013 15:26 PM

Jason Shoot/News Herald Staff

PANAMA CITY — Head coach Jay Powell gets two more looks at his Gulf Coast men’s basketball team before conference play begins in less than two weeks.

The Commodores host the Gulf Coast Holiday Classic beginning Sunday at the Billy Harrison Field House. GC plays USC-Salkehatchie on Sunday and East Georgia on Monday. Both contests tip off at 4 p.m.

The event also features the fourth- and fifth-ranked programs in the country, Northwest Florida State and Chipola, respectively, as well as Central Georgia Tech.

GC (10-5) has won four of its past five games but hasn’t played since a 66-57 victory over TAAG Academy in Gainesville on Dec. 15. That win came one day after a 19-point loss to St. Petersburg, and the Commodores are trying to create some positive momentum before they open their Panhandle Conference schedule at Chipola on Jan. 7.

Jonathan Wade and Elliott Cole have complemented each other in the backcourt and lead GC in scoring with a respective 18.7 and 18.3 points per game. Devon Baulkman, a proven scorer and the team’s top returning sophomore, still is working his way back from an early season shoulder injury, and Cole has fired up 9.3 3-pointers a game this season while Baulkman regains his shooting stroke. Cole has buried four 3-pointers in a game eight times this year.

Sophomore post Andrew Fishler is averaging 2.3 blocks, and freshman forward Anton Waters has grabbed a team-best 6.4 rebounds per game coming off the bench.

The Commodores rank just 142nd nationally in points per game (72.9), but they fare much better on the defensive end of the floor. GC ranks highly among teams across the country in blocked shots (5.4, 19th), opponents’ field goal percentage (38.5, 22nd), and opponents’ 3-point percentage (28.9, 35th).

Chipola (12-1) has five players scoring more than 10 points per game, led by Torian Graham (18.0) and Sam Cassell Jr. (16.5). The Indians have outscored their opponents by an average margin of 91-54 this season and have won five consecutive games following a 103-95 loss to the nation’s No. 1 team, Indian Hills, on Nov. 29.

NWF State (13-1) lost to Indian Hills on Nov. 30 and has since followed that 89-88 defeat with three straight wins. Freshman guard Benji Bell paces the Raiders with 14.4 points a game, and sophomore guard Farad Cobb is second on the team at 13.9.

GC edged USC-Salkehatchie (10-3) for an 83-78 win in South Carolina on Nov. 8. The Indians have two sophomore guards, Jimmy Givens and Denzel Collins, combining for 30 points a game.

East Georgia (6-5) is led by two sophomore forwards: Jon Blair, who leads the team in scoring at 16.1 points per game, and Tommy Williams, who has averaged 10.1 points and 9.5 rebounds.

An inside-outside tandem of Brentine Taylor and Cam Baker powers Central Georgia Tech (9-4). Taylor, a sophomore forward, has collected 19.9 points and 11.4 rebounds a game. Baker, a second-year guard, leads the team with 20.4 points per contest.

Gulf Coast Holiday Classic

Sunday’s games

Chipola vs. Central Georgia Tech, noon

Northwest Florida State vs. East Georgia, 2 p.m.

Gulf Coast vs. USC-Salkehatchie, 4 p.m.

Monday’s games

Chipola vs. USC-Salkehatchie, noon

Northwest Florida State vs. Central Georgia Tech, 2 p.m.

Gulf Coast vs. East Georgia, 4 p.m.

Note: All games are held at the Billy Harrison Field House

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