South Georgia Tech men ready for ‘special’ tournament run

South Georgia Tech men's basketball coach Steven Wright

South Georgia Tech men's basketball coach Steven Wright

AMERICUS — South Georgia Tech men’s basketball coach Steven Wright asked his team just one question after Friday’s practice.

“I asked them if we can be special for just three days (this) week,” Wright said. “For three days, can you be special?”

Then he pulled out his 2009 Region XVII championship ring.

“I told them that if they can be special for three days (this) week, then they have a chance for another one of these,” Wright said.

That’s what is on the line this week for the Jets (21-9), who open the region tournament today as the No. 6 seed. They travel to Barnesville to face No. 3 seed Gordon College — a team SGTC split with in the regular season in a pair of overtime games.

The Jets’ loss to Gordon came at the beginning of February — a month where they lost five out of seven games and dropped three spots in the region standings.

“For the most part, since February hit we have had trouble scoring,” Wright said. “Kids who were consistently scoring night in and night out aren’t scoring like they were at the beginning of the season. It’s been our defensive effort that has consistently gotten better and kept us in some of these games.”

The Jets allow just 58.5 points per game, which is second in the region behind Middle Georgia.

They are led on offense by Region XVII Freshman of the Year Anthony Ethridge, who averages 19.1 points and 8.9 rebounds per game.

“If we continue to get that production from him and get (Stedmon Lemon) back on track, then I like our chances (tonight),” Wright said.

Lemon is second on the team in scoring at 13.8 points per game, but he was held to single digits in five straight games before finally snapping his streak with 17 in a Feb. 28 overtime win against Waycross to end the regular season.

“I hope that game was an indication of (Lemon) getting back on track,” Wright said. “We really do need him hitting on all cylinders. He is a really big key for us.”

SGTC will also rely on Octavius Green, a sophomore that scores 13 points per game and has been near the top of the national leaderboard in rebounding for most of the season, averaging 13.1 boards a night.

The Jets were eliminated from last year’s Region XVII tournament in the opening round by Georgia Perimeter, but only three players return from that team and Wright believes this year’s team can recapture the magic of 2009.

“They want to,” Wright said. “There hasn’t been a lack of focus this year, even during our four-game losing streak. I think with this little break (before the tournament) and with the excitement of this opportunity, they are ready to go.”