Header

Commodores embrace underdog role vs. No. 1 Buccaneers

By Dustin Kent
Before this season, not many people would’ve predicted Gulf Coast to be one of the last two Panhandle Conference teams standing in the postseason.

As the Commodores (21-7) get set to begin play in the FCSAA State Tournament in Niceville on Wednesday against No. 1 Florida Southwestern (29-1), perhaps even fewer would lay down money on the Panhandle runner-up advancing to Friday’s semifinals.

Being doubted, underestimated, written off, it’s a position that the Commodores are accustomed to, and it’s one that they wholly embrace.

“Oh, absolutely. I think we’re better that way,” acting Gulf Coast coach Scott Jackson said. “On the national level we’ve gotten a little bit of respect but probably not a lot, maybe not as much as we’ve deserved.

“We’re 7-1 against the top 25 this year and people still don’t quite believe in us. They definitely don’t think we’ll go through the state tournament with all these teams ranked ahead of us, but we’ve done well in the underdog role all year.”

While the Commodores have embraced being the underdog, it’s not like there has been no good reason for skepticism.

Gulf Coast returned four players from a team that finished last in the Panhandle standings at 2-10 a season ago.

The Commodores lost first-year head coach Phil Gaffney to a heart attack on Jan. 18 and he hasn’t returned to the sideline since. They also lost starting sophomore point guard KK Godwin at the start of conference play, first to injury, and then to suspension.

And still, the Commodores continued to win, taking six of their first seven conference games before dropping three out of four and ultimately clinching with a 108-107 triple-overtime victory over Tallahassee on the last day of the regular season thanks to a half-court buzzer-beater by Maurice Gordon.

Gulf Coast rallied from 18 points down in the second half to win that game. It was the fourth time this season that the Commodores rallied from a double digit deficit to beat a Panhandle Conference team.

Sophomore forward Cam Holden said with the team’s aggressive, trapping style of play, the Commodores never see a deficit they don’t believe they can make up.

“The system coach Gaffney put in, you’re never out of it no matter what the score is,” he said. “You can be down by 20 and you’re not out of it. The up and down system wears you down. We might be down 20, but we know we’re coming back. We’ll feel the comeback.

“We press you and wear you down. It felt like we were playing Tallahassee but really you’re battling fatigue the whole game and it’s like, who’s gonna give out of gas first?”

That approach will be put to the test against a deep and talented Florida Southwestern team that has 10 different players who average double digit minutes per game.

Sophomore 6-foot-6 guard Keon Ellis leads the Buccaneers with 18 points per game on 54.5 percent shooting from the field, 40 percent from the 3-point line, and 80 percent from the free throw line.

Berrick JeanLouis, a 6-4 sophomore, averages 12.9 points per game and gives the Buccaneers one of the more explosive athletes in the country, while 6-6 freshman Jermaine Marshall raised his level in Suncoast Conference competition with 15.1 points and 10.7 rebounds per contest.

“They’re obviously a very good team,” Jackson said. “They have very much of what I would consider Panhandle type of talent. They have several good players, several with Division-I offers. They remind me somewhat of Tallahassee. I don’t think they have the outside shooting that Tallahassee has, but they may be better in transition.

“It’s gonna be a huge test for us. I think we’re prepared because we’ve actually been in playoff mode, so to speak, for at least a few games, where they really haven’t. I think that might give us a little bit of an edge.”

If Gulf Coast can pull off the upset, the Commodores would put themselves in good position to contend for an at-large bid to the national tournament in Hutchinson, Kan., even if they don’t win the state tournament, though they would likely need to win their semifinal game as well.

“I feel like we’ve got a great resume to get a bid, but that’s not my call,” Holden said. “I feel like we’ve got a great chance, but the great thing is we get to play somebody new. I’m tired of playing the same teams over and over and over.

“But you know the way we play, we get to see if Florida Southwest don’t like it. If they don’t like it, that’s when it will be really fun to play.”

Not that Gulf Coast needs any more motivation than playing to keep its season alive, but Gaffney has left open the possibility of returning to the sideline should the Commodores make it to Hutchinson.

Sophomore guard Jacolbey Owens said he was proud of how the Commodores stepped up even in Gaffney’s absence, but said it would be pretty special if the team could extend the season long enough for him to return.

“It would mean a lot, especially with this being his first year coming in coaching at Gulf Coast,” he said. “He’s been there before. He’s been in that position in the national tournament, so having him back would be a big thing for us if ... well, when we do go to the national tournament.”

Certainly no one could reasonably call Gulf Coast’s 2019-20 season a failure even if it fails to get to Hutchinson, though Jackson said if the Commodores do make it to the national tournament, it would be hard to overstate what it would mean to the program.

“I think it was a big step to get here after everything we’ve been through,” he said. “I think it would be huge for the program for us to win state and advance to the national tournament. You’re talking about future recruiting, future belief in the program.

“The community has already rallied around us, it would be just huge to be able to do that and take off from there.”

 

NJCAA
FCSAA
GCSC
Gulf Coast State College Athletics | 5230 West Highway 98 | Panama City, FL | 850.769.1551
©2019 | Privacy Policy | Webmaster