ABILENE —The ninth-ranked South Plains College men's basketball team will play for a Region V championship for the second time in as many years after defeating No. 4 Ranger College 85-75 in Friday's semifinal matchup at Moody Coliseum.
The Texans will square off with a familiar foe in No. 7 Odessa College on Saturday at 8 p.m., a rematch of last year's title game which saw South Plains down the Wranglers and earn an automatic bid to the national tournament.
"Tonight was a really good game, and I thought both teams played really well," South Plains head coach Steve Green said. "Ranger brought the best out in us, and we had to come out and play and play for 40 minutes. We had good balance tonight, and when the ball goes inside you have to do something to stop that guy, and our guys hit some shots outside which was crucial."
With Ranger utilizing a guard based offensive attack, South Plains capitalized in the way of sophomore big man Gaige Prim who had his way inside, leading all scorers with 29 points and 14 rebounds, dropping in 9 of 13 attempts from the floor was 11-for-13 from the free throw line.
Forcing Ranger to try and slow down the Texans on the interior, South Plains made the most of their looks from the outside as Chris Orlina went off for 18 points and six boards, chipping in a pair of 3s and was a perfect 6 of 6 from the charity stripe. Orlina was joined in the outside shooting barrage by Deon Barrett who poured in 15 points over 34 minutes. Sophomore Jonah Antonio tacked on 10 more as the Texans shot 52 percent from the field and 41 percent from long range.
"This game was huge for us and we're playing well at the right time," Prim said. "We have to go into tomorrow with the same expectations and utilize our inside out ball movement and find a way to get a win. We tried to swing the ball around as much as possible and everyone seemed to get into the mix tonight. It wasn't one guy or one look, we all had a hand in this one and it feels great to get another win against a quality ball club like Ranger."
Trailing 38-33 after one half, South Plains quickly erased the deficit in the opening minutes of the second half as they shot a 68.2 percent clip in the final stint including a 50 percent mark from the perimeter. South Plains continued to find open looks inside, bucketing 50 points inside the paint in the contest and scored 17 points on second-chance opportunities.
Shooting over 40 percent from the 3-point line coming into Friday night, Ranger was held scoreless from the outside in the second half and finished 16 of 34 from the floor in the final 20 minutes. South Plains would open its lead to as much as 16 with under five minutes left as they handed the Rangers their first loss since Jan. 7, snapping a 15 game win streak.
"I think our length helped us tonight, but in all honesty, we could turn around and play this game again tomorrow and it could slip the other way," Green said. "I think you're looking at the three best teams in the region with who we played tonight and who we have tomorrow, and I think all three of us have punched a ticket to the national tournament. Look out Kansas, here comes Texas."