Dalton State College’s men’s basketball team never trailed against Tennessee Temple on Tuesday night.
With that, the Roadrunners finished their return season with one last metaphorical fist pump.
Dalton State broke a 50-50 tie with a 14-2 run in the second half and ended its season with a 75-68 home win at the trade center. It was the first season in 35 years for the program — the first in the school’s four-year era — and concluded with a 26-4 record.
The Roadrunners are unable to move on to the postseason because the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics doesn’t allow first-year programs to compete for conference or national championships. Dalton State is without a conference affiliation this season but will join the Southern States Athletic Conference for the 2014-2015 school year.
“The team was incredible,” said Dalton State coach Tony Ingle, an alum of the program who also earned the 400th win of his coaching career. “They made sacrifices and bought into what we were saying. ... We were very fortunate early on. It’s unbelievable. We wanted to establish early on we were a solid basketball program. We wanted to send that message.”
Against Tennessee Temple, a team the Roadrunners beat 84-70 in Chattanooga on Jan. 21, Dalton State built double-digit leads in the first half on two occasions. However, the Crusaders (17-11) finally tied the game at 42 when Weedlens Beauvil hit a 3-pointer with 14:48 left in the game. The teams traded four baskets — with the Roadrunners always taking the first positive step — but senior Demetrice Jacobs hit three free throws and Preston Earle converted a fast-break layup to put Dalton State up 55-50 with 9:14 left.
Dalton State had another big moment when Sean Tate recorded a steal, made an off-balance shot and earned a free throw, which he converted for a three-point play and a 59-52 lead.
Earle converted a three-point play on the Roadrunners’ next possession for a 62-52 edge with 7:16 left.
“I felt we stayed focused,” Ingle said. “We knew they were a good basketball team. We needed to match their intensity.”
Jacobs joined Ricky Sears and Desmond Phillips as the three seniors honored on senior night. The trio played their final games in Dalton State uniforms. Sears led the Roadrunners with 17 points and added seven rebounds. Jacobs finished with 12 points while Earle and Ladaris Green added 13 points each, with Green also grabbing 15 rebounds.
“This win was big,” Sears said, “and it keeps them in a winning streak so they can keep it rolling next year. And I think they will.”
Dalton State went up 11-4 on Sears’ 3-pointer with 13:35 left in the opening half. The lead stretched to 27-17 on back-to-back 3-pointers by Earle. After Tennessee Temple cut the Roadrunners’ lead to 29-25, Green scored six straight points.
Jacobs finished the half with a three-point play with 1.4 seconds left, and Dalton State led 40-32 at the break. Tennessee Temple was 2-for-12 on 3-pointers in the first half and finished 4-for-16.
“First and foremost, Tony has done an unbelievable job and credit to him and his program,” Tennessee Temple coach Jeff Haarlow said. “... In terms of the game, we got stops to start the second half. That got us back in the game. We found our shooters in the second half. I don’t know if it was legs or we got tired, but about that eight- or 10-minute mark, we just hit a wall.”