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There’s plenty of veteran leadership

Seniors lead way for Panthers

By Kevin Eckleberry

keckleberry@civitasmedia.com

Senior guard Mark Wagner is leading the LaGrange College Panthers in scoring this season. Kevin Eckleberry | Daily News

http://lagrangenews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/37/2015/12/web1_panthers9.jpgSenior guard Mark Wagner is leading the LaGrange College Panthers in scoring this season. Kevin Eckleberry | Daily News

Senior Braxton Ford is averaging more than 10 points per game. Kevin Eckleberry | Daily News

http://lagrangenews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/37/2015/12/web1_panthers4.jpgSenior Braxton Ford is averaging more than 10 points per game. Kevin Eckleberry | Daily News

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http://lagrangenews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/37/2015/12/web1_White-mug.jpgWhite

LAGRANGE – He remembers being the newcomer.

As the 2012-2013 season was getting under way, Braxton Ford was part of a seven-man freshman class on the LaGrange College basketball team.

Now, Ford is the veteran.

Ford, along with the two other seniors who have remained with the program since that 2012-2013 season, is one of the leaders on a team off to a quick 5-1 start following Wednesday’s 88-80 overtime victory over Birmingham Southern.

The other two seniors are guard Mark Wagner and post player Mike White.

“Me and Mark were freshmen staying in Boatwright together, and we were like it’s going to take forever,” Ford said, looking back to his freshman year. “Now, we’re the old men on campus. It’s been very exciting.”

The seniors have enjoyed plenty of success, especially in the previous two seasons when the Panthers won back-to-back USA South tournament championships.

Wagner has been one of the Panthers’ most consistent players since his arrival on campus.

He stepped right in and averaged nine points per game as a freshman, and he scored more than 13 points per game the next two seasons.

He’s been even better as a senior, averaging nearly 18 points per game, and he had 16 points to help the Panthers get a home win on Wednesday.

Wagner’s biggest basket so far this season came when he scored at the buzzer to lift LaGrange College to a 90-89 road win over Berry College.

Last week, Wagner averaged 17.3 points, four rebounds, 4.7 assists and two steals in leading the Panthers to three wins, and he was named the USA South player of the week.

Wagner, who has led the USA South in 3-point shots made the past two seasons, said he’s looking to be a senior leader this season, and not just by knocking down baskets.

“This year, it’s kind of passing on the tradition of making sure guys are doing things the right way,” said Wagner, whose younger brother Stephen is a freshman on the LaGrange College team.

In Wednesday’s game, the Panthers led late in regulation, but they ended up having to go to overtime.

Birmingham Southern seemed to have momentum heading into overtime, but LaGrange College is a veteran team, so there was no panic.

“Our guards, we’ve been here for quite some time,” Wagner said. “We’ve been through scenarios like this before. Me and Braxton, especially, we got everybody together and said we’ve done this so many times. Let’s just buckle down, and get this thing over with.”

Ford hit a go-ahead 3-pointer in overtime, and LaGrange College rolled to the win.

Wagner had a chance to win the game at the close of regulation, but he was unable to get a shot at the buzzer to fall.

The Panthers felt a foul should have been called on the play, but it wasn’t.

Ford said that was no big deal.

“We thought we got fouled on that last play,” Ford said. “It was like, OK, now let’s go. When we broke the huddle, I just said let’s go fellows. We’ve got five minutes.”

Ford played sparingly his first two seasons at LaGrange College, but he stepped in and occupied a much more prominent role last season and averaged 10 points per game.

He has started every game as a senior, and he has scored in double figures in four of six games.

The 6-foot-7 White, who was unable to play in Wednesday’s game, has provided a key inside presence since he was a freshman.

White had a game high 18 points in a win over Toccoa Falls last week, and he scored 16 points in a victory over Oglethorpe.

Wagner said his senior season has been an enjoyable one.

The wins are obviously nice, but Wagner said the camaraderie the players have is really making things fun.

“The last couple of years, we’ve only had one or two guys that didn’t really fit the mold,” Wagner said. “This year, I feel like we’re all kind of meshing together. We’re having fun out there.”

Ford said this team has an opportunity to do some special things.

The Panthers have played a challenging early-season schedule, and they’ve won five of their six games, and one of those wins was against a nationally-ranked Emory team.

“We know what we can do,” Ford said. “That’s why every day we come in and put in the work. We know what we can do with this team.”

Reach Kevin Eckleberry at (706) 884-7311 or on Twitter @lagrangesports