MESA, Arizona — In a familiar position entering Sunday night, the South Plains College men's basketball team bested #23 Salt Lake Community College 72-65 at Theo Heap Gymnasium to capture their third Fiesta Bowl Junior College Shootout title in the last four years.
"We played really hard tonight and defensively we did really well," South Plains head coach Steve Green said. "Everyone who went on the court locked down on the defensive end. We have some length and you have to shoot over the top of us. We challenged most shots, and that was our game plan and we knew they were going to shoot a lot of 3s."
Leading 33-27 at the half, The Texans pushed their lead to nine, 47-38 on a pair of free throws from Benjamin Bayela with 11:23 to play. Following a pair of free throws from the Bear's Asa McCord to bring the score to 47-40, Bayela connected with a triple from the right wing to give South Plains a 50-40 lead with 8:55 to go.
Salt Lake would get back within six, 56-50 thanks to a Justice Hill layup with 5:55 on the clock, but South Plains would answer as Bernard Kouma knocked down a jumper to put his team up 60-51 with just over five minutes remaining. The Bears would respond and get within three, 65-62 on a layup from Tutu Majok with under two minutes to go, but a tip-in on the other end from Junior Farquhar put South Plains back up five, 67-62 with 54 ticks left as the Texans would go on to lead by as much as 10 in the final seconds.
South Plains freshman Rivaldo Soares, a 6-foot-7 guard from Boston scored a season-high 24 points, netting 7 of 14 shots from the floor and was 4 of 8 from distance over 36 minutes. Farquhar dropped in 17 points to go along with five rebounds and six assists for the Texans, sinking 5 of 11 shots from the field and was 6-for-8 from the charity stripe.
"Rivaldo is shooting the ball well and shooting with a lot of confidence right now," Green said. "If we can get his partner in crime Benjamin to do the same thing, we will be rolling. We played the whole game on the baseline tonight and Junior was able to get in the middle of the lane and make some plays for us."
Bayela would finish with nine points, four rebounds and a pair of assists in 36 minutes as the Texans shot 38.1 percent as a team and 33.3 percent from the 3-point line. South Plains recorded 28 points inside the paint and 16 points on second-chance opportunities. The Texans received 14 points from their bench and netted 14 points on 13 forced turnovers from Salt Lake.