The spring semester doesn’t get underway at Georgetown College until next Tuesday, but the men’s basketball team is already hard at work. On Monday night the Tigers aced their first test of the new year, knocking off visiting Life University 84-74 at Davis-Reid Alumni Gym to seize sole possession of first place in the Mid-South Conference and improve to 16-1, extending their winning streak to eight games.
As he has been all year, sophomore forward Chris Coffey was a workhorse for the Tigers against the Running Eagles, dropping a game-high 21 points and pulling down 11 rebounds. The Louisville native and graduate of Seneca High School is averaging a double-double this season at 10.1 points and 10.2 rebounds per game.
It seemed like every time Georgetown needed a lift on Monday, Coffey was there to provide it. With the Tigers trailing 18-15, he slammed home a put-back dunk that sparked an 8-0 run. After the Running Eagles sank a three to draw to within five, Coffey nailed a baseline jumper then threw down a fast-break dunk on back-to-back possessions to prompt a Life timeout.
Coffey said he views himself as the team’s “Energizer Bunny.”
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“They say I never get tired in practice or in games, so when I come in I just want to push everybody to get up the floor, to play fast, to talk to each other,” he said.
Midway through the second half Coffey limped off the court after injuring his ankle scrambling for a rebound. After Life cut the Georgetown lead to five points with just over four minutes to play, Coffey returned to help salt away the win. Troy Steward hit him on a backdoor cut for a layup and a seven point lead, then Steward provided the dagger with a deep three-pointer with 1:38 to go.
After a heartbreaking 100-99 overtime loss to Mid-America Christian in last year’s NAIA championship game, it appeared on paper that the Tigers would have a tough time duplicating the formula that led to a 32-4 record and the school’s 12th Mid-South Conference regular season title. First-team All-Americans and leading scorers Noah Cottrill and Deondre McWhorter were lost to graduation, along with honorable mention All-American Tony Kimbro.
But sixth-year head coach Chris Briggs has surrounded Coffey with a four-guard starting lineup that pushes the pace and averages nearly 85 points per game while holding opponents to 64.5. Briggs has the Tigers believing they can erase the memory of last year’s championship game disappointment and bring home the program’s third national title.
“They’re using (the championship loss) as motivation,” he said. “They were so close and the guys that returned, they think about that a lot,” Briggs said. “It’s helping to bring them together and make them work harder … our first team meeting it was talked about and all those guys in the locker room said, ‘We’re getting back on that Tuesday night and we’re gonna make sure that doesn’t happen again.’”
Junior guard Trent Gilbert, one of four Tigers averaging double-digit points, said the rapport among this year’s team is like none he’s ever experienced.
“Everybody is so cohesive and together, I’ve never been on a team that’s been this close and bonded like this,” said the Georgetown native, who played his freshman year at Louisville before transferring to his hometown college. “When people say ‘your team is your family,’ that’s exactly how this team feels. I think that bond is what’s helping making up for everything we lost.”
Leading scorer Steward, who averages 17.8 points per game, agreed that the atmosphere surrounding the team is playing a major role in its success.
“Everybody is really unselfish. It doesn’t matter to me if I score two points as long as we win,” said the sophomore guard. “Chris (Coffey) is a big weapon, so I just try to find him because he’s one of our best shooters.”
Apparently, Coffey is one of the team’s best dancers too. Steward said it isn’t unusual to walk into the locker room and find the big man “dancing to Mickey Mouse Club.”
“He’s always doing something funny,” said Steward. “Coach will tell us to ‘get serious’ and he’ll do something funny and even coach will start laughing.”
Briggs backed up Steward’s assessment, affectionately calling Coffey “our 198-pound goofball.”
But it isn’t all fun and games for Coffey. He didn’t mince words when asked about the goal for this year’s Tigers squad.
“Getting back to the national title game and winning it all, that’s a successful season to me,” he said.
Georgetown at Campbellsville
8 p.m. Thursday