MARYVILLE, Tenn. - CHAMPIONS!!! LaGrange roared past Huntingdon 94-84 to claim its first USA South Tournament championship Saturday at Maryville College's Boydson Baird Gymnasium.
The fourth-seeded Panthers (18-10) overcame a 14-point second half deficit to beat the Hawks (12-15) for the first time in three meetings this season.
The tournament championship is the first one in the USA South for any LaGrange College team since joining the conference prior to the 2012-13 academic year. For men's basketball, it is the first tournament title since 1975, when the Panthers won the Georgia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
"It's a great day to be a Panther! We stayed positive and played together." Coach Kendal Wallace said. "After getting down 10 points or so we regrouped and were able to get a few stops in a row and then converted on the offensive end.
"Hats off to Nick Mitchell and Patrick Dugger for being selected to the all-tournament team. Denzel Robinson had an amazing stat line and Jerod Howard had huge minutes and capped a run with a big 3-pointer. We are excited about the NCAA tournament and having the opportunity to represent Lagrange College."
Mitchell was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player after scoring a game-high 21 points. For the tournament, he had 70 points and 21 rebounds.
Dugger added 17 points and led the team with seven rebounds. Robinson followed Mitchell with 19 points, five assists and a career-high seven steals.
The Panthers found themselves trailing 62-48 four minutes into the second half. They would answer by outscoring the Hawks 23-6 over the next eight minutes.
Robinson started the comeback with a steal at the defensive end, followed by a pair of free throws at the other end. He made it 12 straight points for the Panthers with a layup after a Dustin Baxter steal to make it 62-60.
Huntingdon tied the game for the last time, 68-68, with 7:49 left. Baxter drained a 3-pointer off an assist from Robinson for a 71-68 lead and the Panthers never trailed again.
The Panthers' lead reached double digits after Robinson scored in the lane to make it 81-71 with under four minutes remaining. Dugger's two free throws pushed the lead to 15, 91-76, with only 1:39 left and put the game out of reach.
The Panthers trailed 52-42 at halftime. They opened the game with an 11-2 run but the Hawks came back to lead by as many as 15 in the first half.
The Panthers shot an even 60 percent in the second half and 51.7 percent for the game. They held Huntingdon to 31.4 percent shooting in the second half. The Panthers forced 23 turnovers in the game.
"I could not be more proud of Coach Wallace and this team," LaGrange College Athletic Director Jennifer Claybrook said. "This is a testament to the coaches and players' work ethic and passion for the game. We are thrilled for them and are looking forward to our first trip to the NCAA III national tournament."
LaGrange College president Dan McAlexander was on hand at the game to see the Panthers make school history.
"I am just so proud of this team and how wonderfully they represented LaGrange College," said McAlexander. "It's a great win for coach Wallace, the coaching staff and players. Also, our fans provided us with an outstanding sixth man today."