Already snakebit by injuries, the University of West Georgia men’s basketball coach entered Saturday’s Gulf South Conference home tilt against West Alabama with his roster ravaged even more due to illness and another injury casualty.
And despite all that, the Wolves still found themselves battling for a ‘W’ during the closing minutes of Saturday’s contest before falling just short in a 58-54 setback to the Tigers.
Playing without senior guard and top scorer Quincy Hill (flu) and senior center Brett Seljak (back spasms), Cooney couldn’t fault the fight his team displayed. The UWG coach acknowledged that it is indeed frustrating to deal with some of the offensive shortcomings, but he’s certainly not frustrated with the effort.
“You can’t play any harder than they’re playing. It’s frustrating when they miss free throws and they don’t reward themselves, it’s frustrating when they turn the ball over, it’s frustrating when they miss layups. But when you fight as hard as they are, I applaud their effort. We’ve just got to get better,” Cooney said. “I still believe that if we can catch fire, we can be a real spoiler here going down the turn.”
After owning an early 5-4 lead, the Wolves (7-13, 4-8 GSC) would be playing catch-up the rest of the evening, trailing by as much as nine in the first half and 10 points in the second half with 12:15 to go in the game.
But UWG used a 12-2 run to pull even at 45-all with 8:02 remaining on an old-fashioned three-point play from junior forward Sean Boston. The Wolves tied it up on one more occasion, but could never get over the hump to take the lead down the stretch. A Taylor Cochran trey in the closing seconds pulled UWG within 56-54, but West Alabama guard Sandy Underwood knocked down a pair of free throws with 5.4 seconds remaining to ice the game.
Underwood led all scorers with 21 points and 12 rebounds, while Zach Taulien paced the Wolves with 16 points before fouling out with 8:35 to go. Cochran also reached double figures with 11 points and nine boards and Boston posted 10 points and eight rebounds.
Cooney was hopeful Hill would be able to go, but the UWG coach didn’t want to put his star guard’s health at risk after he’d been battling the flu all week.
“They tried to give him an IV, but his veins are just so dang tough, they couldn’t get the needle in there. He turned four shades of white, which is pretty hard to do to a kid from Oakland,” Cooney said. “He just didn’t have it. You want to win [Saturday] and he wants to win. But at the end of the day, it’s about his safety and his well-being. I just didn’t feel comfortable with the week that he’s had putting him into a game like that.”
And while Hill will rest up and be ready to return next week for the Wolves’ road swing to Valdosta State on Thursday and West Florida on Saturday, Seljak’s situation is a little more up in the air.
“The back spasms started in the middle of the week and didn’t get better. Our trainer did not clear him, so that’s going to be something for the future. We’re not sure what’s going to go on there,” Cooney said.
As for the big picture, despite dropping a seventh straight game, Cooney remains confident that his ball club will turn it around and be a team to deal with in the GSC Tournament come March.
“We’re just going to use these next three weeks trying to improve the best we can so that we’re ready for that tournament. I mean, that’s what we’ve got to play for,” Cooney said.