LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN -- After going through a tough transition into a new conference last year, the Covenant men's basketball team made strides in the 2014-15 season under sixth-year head coach Kyle Taylor. The Scots finished 9-17 overall, but were 7-7 inside the USA South and qualified for the USA South tournament for the first time.
The Scots rebounded from a slow start to the season to finish .500 in league play and challenged top-seeded Averett until the final buzzer in a USA South tournament quarterfinal.
GAME OF THE YEAR: Covenant 75, Piedmont 72 (Feb. 11)
With Covenant fighting for a postseason berth, the Scots hosted Piedmont on February 11. Piedmont, who finished third in the conference, was jockeying for tournament position with Maryville, Greensboro and William Peace.
Covenant took a 30-17 lead in the first half, but Piedmont came roaring back to take a four-point lead less than 10 minutes later, before Covenant was able to stem the tide. Colton McGriff and Nate Frierson came up big in the first 20 minutes, combining for 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting as the two teams entered the locker rooms at halftime with a 39-39 tie. In the second half, the two teams played a very evenly matched game, going back and forth, with eight ties and four lead changes overall.
Covenant led almost the entire second half, but every time the Scots started to pull away, Piedmont reeled them back in. Finally, the visiting Lions took a 72-69 lead with just over three minutes to play, prompting a timeout from Taylor.
Coming out of the timeout, Taylor drew up a play and TJ Cox executed, burying a game-tying 3-pointer with 2:46 to play.
During the next two minutes, both teams went scoreless while missing four shots and turning the ball over four times.
With 28 seconds to play, Cox turned the ball over, giving the Lions a chance to win the game on the final play. They held the ball for the last shot, but Trae Gaines turned the ball over with seven seconds left. Chris Boyd got the steal and quickly passed it ahead to Will Portlock. Portlock dished it to Cox, who drove for the game-winning layup while getting fouled on the play. Cox made the free throw to finish with 20 points and give the Scots a 75-72 victory.
Highlight of the final play:
Covenant had quite a few key contributors, consistently playing 10 players for significant minutes each game. McGriff led the team in scoring with 12.4 points per game on 44.4 percent from the floor. The senior also became Covenant's newest member of the 1,000-point club when he passed the milestone against Emory on December 10. McGriff was named to the GABCA All-State second team for a third year in a row.
Cox, who returned to Covenant in 2014-15 after taking a year away from the school, was the only other player who averaged double-figures for the Scots, with 10.3 points per game. He also averaged a team-high 3.1 assists per game while shooting 39.3 percent from 3-point range.
Chris Boyd was the team's leading rebounder at 3.9 per game while blocking 18 shots, which was best on the team as well. The Scots also recieved signigicant contributions from seniors Frierson, Ryan Burns, Teron Ferguson and Bryant Engbers. Junior Micah Turner and sophomore Portlock also played important roles on the team.
On the year as a whole:
"After a rough start to the season, I was really proud of how our players stayed the course, remained focus, persevered, and fought to make the conference tournament."
On the team's defense:
"Loved our tenacity and effort on defense. I wish our offense could've been better, because at times our defense was really dictating and disrupting at a high level. We forced nearly 20 turnovers per game (19.3 to be exact), which is the best in my six years."
On the return of TJ Cox:
"It was great to have TJ Cox back. He was really a catalyst for us. He has matured a lot as both a man and player and his presence had a really positive impact on our program."
On the seniors:
"I'm going to miss our seven seniors: Colton (McGriff), Nate (Frierson), Ryan (Burns), Bryant (Engbers), Teron (Ferguson), Jay (Zeigler), and Matt (Brunjes). I love those guys. They helped lead us to a winning season and have left Covenant Basketball in a better spot than when they arrived."
IN THE RANKS:
- 10.3: Steals per game as a team for Covenant, which ranked 12th in all of Division III and second in the USA South. Portlock was seventh in the league with 1.65 steals per game.
- 3.4: Covenant's turnover margin this season. That ranked the Scots 34th in the country and second in the USA South.
Colton McGriff - 2nd team
USA South All-Sportsmanship