HUTCHINSON, Kansas — Isaiah Maurice scored a game-high 22 points and Ben Perez poured in 19 as the South Plains College men's basketball team throttled Highland Community College 91-71 Monday in the opening round of the 2018 NJCAA Men's Basketball National Tournament at the Hutchinson Sports Arena.
With the win, the Texans advance to the round of 16 and will take on fourth-seeded Salt Lake at noon on Wednesday.
"We got off to a 15-2 start and kind of separated ourselves," South Plains head coach Steve Green said. "We made some plays when we had to, and I don't think we were especially crisp, or sharp. I think they missed a lot of open shots early in the game, and I don't think we did anything on the defensive end that we should be proud of."
South Plains pummeled the Cougars (26-7) with a 12-0 run to begin the contest capped by a layup from Deshawn Corprew with 14:36 to go in the first half. Highland would find its rhythm over the next three minutes as Shareef Smith nailed a trey with 11:35 to play, part of an 11-3 run from Highland which trimmed the Texans' lead to 15-11.
Following a 3 from Smith that brought the Cougars within two, 20-18 with under nine minutes to go before the break, South Plains answered as they pushed their lead to six on a pair of Christopher Orlina' free throws. Raymond Doby extended South Plains' lead to 10 with two free throws with under a minute to play as the Texans would take a 43-34 lead into the locker room at the midway point.
"This was our first game in a week, and we showed a lot of things we did early in the season," Maurice said. "We have to handle those things and take care of them before our next game. Coach Green brought it up at halftime that we play best from the inside out, and inside nobody can stop us, and that just opens up our outside game and creates shots for other guys."
Highland made an early push in the opening minutes of the second half as they got within five on a Jay'Quan McCloud' 3-ball with 16:42 to go. McCloud would then bring the Cougars within two, this time with a triple from the top of the key with 16:24 left in the contest.
That would be as close as the Cougars would come as the Texans responded with an 11-2 run, pushing their lead to 11, 56-45 thanks to two free throws from Perez with 13:21 remaining. South Plains would go on to lead by as much as 21 in the final stint as they shot 56.3 percent from the floor in the second half and 43.5 percent from 3 over 40 minutes.
Highland was held to a 39.4 percent mark from the floor in the final 20 minutes and were just 5 of 17 from the 3-point line. Maurice and Perez combined for 27 points in the second half while Corprew chipped in nine of his 15 points in the back half of the contest.
Freshman Keith McGee netted 12 points and dished out a game-high nine assists for the Texans (24-8) while Orlina chipped in 11 points and snagged five boards. William Washington and Doby combined for 12 points and eight rebounds off the bench as South Plains picked up its eighth win in its last nine outings.
"I think when we got the ball to Isaiah good things happened," Green said. "It looked to me like we missed a lot of opportunities to throw the ball inside, and I don't know if it was first game jitters or what, but if your focus is to take what they're giving you, I don't think we did a very good job of that tonight."
McCloud and Johnson Jr. each finished with 16 points for the Cougars while Luka Barisic chipped in 12 and Smith tallied eight points and six assists.