Underdogs on top: Gulf Coast men win first state title since 1972
The Gulf Coast men's basketball team hadn't won a state championship for made a national tournament since 1972 under head coach Jack Jackson.
The drought is over—in 2020 with acting coach Scott Jackson and Phil Gaffney, the Commodores are headed to 'Hutch' again.
GCSC beat No. 12 Tallahassee 71-63, following upsets of No. 1 Florida Southwestern and No. 19 Central Florida earlier in the tournament to claim their eighth victory over a ranked team this season.
After opening on a 23-7 run, TCC wrestled back to within 35-34 going into halftime. The Commodores stayed strong, led by a game high 23 points courtesy of Jacolbey Owens with two buckets in the final minute and a half to ice it.
The celebration that followed, beginning with a surprise visit from Coach Gaffney, made for an unforgettable scene.
"I don't even remember what I did, I was just so happy to see him," acting head coach Scott Jackson said. "I couldn't believe he was there. That just topped it off. It really was fantastic."
Gaffney, credited with rejuvenating the program in his first season, has been absent since a heart attack in January. Although he is active in game-planning and stays in contact with the team, Saturday was his first time attending a GCSC game since the medical issue.
"I was like, 'oh my God, he's here,'" Owens recalled. "I ain't seen him in a long time, so it was special. Him being here and seeing us get the victory meant a lot to us."
"Out of all the plaques that I got," tournament MVP Cam Holden added, "that was the biggest trophy I could get: seeing that man smiling, be able to come hug us and break it down one more time."
Gulf Coast secures an automatic bid to the National Tournament in Hutchinson, Kansas, March 16 through March 21. The week off is crucial for Gaffney's potential return.
"I haven't officially been released to go back to work until next Tuesday," the coach confirmed. "We'll go back and we'll see how it goes at practice. We'll monitor my heart rate and blood pressure. Hutch is in 10-12 days so hopefully by then I'll be ready to go."
Holden contributed 11 points and tied for the team lead with 7 rebounds along with Moe Gordon.
Cutting down the nets was especially sweet for Holden.
"Jacolbey was a state champ (in high school) and all my teammates probably won a state championship. I've always been in second place. I've been in second place for four years straight in my high school career, so winning a championship and finally finish the drill is great."