Jacksonville, Fla. – If the 2018 Gulf Coast Athletic Conference (GCAC) Tournament final was all about the cross-town rivalries, this year's tournament was all about the atmosphere.
Though both Edward Waters (Fla.) College teams lost in the tournament finals, the atmosphere at the Adams-Jenkins Sports & Music Complex was electric throughout the final day of play.
From the very first seconds of the game, the Tigers fans were pumped—proving that the AJC is one of the most intimidating environments in the GCAC.
It didn't make a difference.
In the first game of the day—a rematch of the 2018 final--the EWC Lady Tigers took one on the chin against the Dillard University Lady Bleu Devils, who didn't allow the blaring horns of the Edward Waters Triple Threat band or the largely pro-Tigers crowd to disrupt their game plan.
Edward Waters' LaQuanza Glover put the team on her shoulders, scoring 24 points and getting 20 boards, but the Lady Bleu Devils' overall balance was too much for the Lady Tigers to handle. The Dillard trio of Jaiylyn Brown, Jabria Pounds and Adriiana Jackson combined for 42 of the team's 64 points.
"We were just honored to have the opportunity to play in the championship game at EWC," said Lady Bleu Devils Head Coach Norbert Rome. "They are a well-coached team and Coach Wilson did a great job all year. We are excited about the opportunity to represent the GCAC at the national championship for the NAIA."
Dillard's Brown was named Tournament MVP. Also recognized on the 2019 All-Tournament Team were Dillard's Adriiana Jackson, Edward Waters' Glover, Talladega's Jasmine Nelson and Southern University at New Orleans' Andriel Moss.
In the men's final, the No. 4 Tougaloo Bulldogs sucked the air out of the AJC in the early goings, getting out to a competitive start and not allowing the Tigers to settle into the run-and-gun style that proved to successful against the Dillard (La.) Bleu Devils and Southern University at New Orleans (SUNO) Knights in the quarter- and semi-finals of the 2019 tournament.
Gulf Coast Athletic Conference Player of the Year Tonzell Handy had a breakout game, only a day after many feared he'd be sidelined due to a thumb injury. Handy put up 34 points and 12 rebounds to lift the Bulldogs over the Tigers. Edward Waters' Cedric McGinnis
"Well, when I first got to Tougaloo my goal was to do what we did today—win everything," said Tougaloo Bulldogs Head Coach Thomas Billups. "Last year, I won 17 games. Came in, went out and recruited. I know when I've got a group of kids that's going to work hard…if you stay in the gym with me, we're going to win. That's where this comes from—because we work so hard."
This is the Bulldogs' first GCAC championship since 2012.
Tougaloo's Tonzell Handy—who has already picked up a slew of awards and accolades this season—was named Tournament MVP.
"I'm speechless. We worked so hard," said Handy. "Coach [Billups] stays on us all day, every day—on the court and off the court. We just took it one game at a time."
Joining him on the Men's All-Tournament team were Xavier's Jeff Dixon, Southern University at New Orleans' Dimi Cook, Edward Waters' Dennis Miles, and teammate D'Michael Stribling.
Both the Bulldogs and the Bleu Devils will receive automatic bids to the NAIA National Tournament as the conference's official qualifiers.
The Bulldogs will travel to Kansas City, Mo. for the NAIA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament. The No. 20-ranked Talladega Tornadoes, who were upset in the quarterfinals of the GCAC tournament by SUNO, will have to wait to see if they receive an at-large bid to the tournament.
The Lady Bleu Devils will head to Billings, Mont. for the NAIA Division I Women's Basketball Tournament.
Both the No. 23 Xavier Gold Nuggets and the No. 13 Talladega Tornadoes will learn their fate in the coming days, as they will need to receive at-large bids to nationals.