LEVELLAND — In what was sure to be a slugfest between two perennial powers, Thursday night's conference showdown between No. 1 South Plains and No. 3 Odessa lived up to the hype as the Texans outlasted the Wranglers 96-93 in overtime at the Texan Dome.
South Plains improves to 11-0 on the season and sits atop the WJCAC with a 6-0 mark, while Odessa suffered their first loss and falls to 12-1 on the year and 5-1 in conference play. The Texans will be on the road Monday in Big Spring to square off with Howard College at 7:30 p.m.
"I thought at the beginning of the game we played extremely well, but I've watched four of their games in our league and I knew they were going to make that charge on us," South Plains head coach Steve Green said. "You lose your aggressiveness and you lose your confidence and you start passing the ball when you shouldn't, and the press just killed us. We got up 16, then we were up by eight, and I knew this thing was going to go down to the wire."
Leading 71-55 with under seven minutes to go, South Plains watched its lead shrink to 10 as Odessa got within striking distance with 5:35 to play following a layup from Dancell Leter. Odessa would then cut the deficit to four, 71-66 on a jumper from Jordan Booker with 4:40 to play.
Myron Gardner would put the Texans back up six on a 3-ball from the right wing to bring the score to 74-68 with just over four minutes remaining. Odessa, who never led in the game, would finally get within a single possession, 79-78 thanks to a pair of free throws from Aquarn Butler with 24 ticks left.
South Plains would answer as Mareng Gatkuoth dropped in a floater to put the Texans up 81-78 with 12 seconds to go. Odessa would make the most of the final possession as Booker connected on a three with a hand in his face with a second to play, sending the contest into overtime deadlocked at 81.
"We could have made it easier on ourselves if we would have made free throws," Green said. "Our goal was to shoot at least 30 free throws, but we expected to make them. They kept putting us on the line and it was like it was a good strategy on their part. But, all in all, it's a victory, and we're sitting on top of the league right now with a really tough road ahead."
The Texans would come out swinging to begin the final five minutes as Rivaldo Soares converted at the rim while drawing a foul, knocking down the free throw to put South Plains up 86-81 with 4:21 remaining. Following a bucket from Soares which saw the Texans go up 88-82, Leter would drop in a 3 for the Wranglers to bring the score to 88-85 with 3:01 to play.
Following a pair of free throws from Gardner which gave the Texans a 92-87 advantage, Butler would knock down a 3 to get Odessa within two, 92-90. Philmon Gebrewhit, who recorded a career-high 18 points, knocked down a pair of crucial free throws to put the Texans up four, 94-90 with 19 ticks to go.
"Tonight we learned we are a tough team and we play hard," Gebrewhit said. "We need to start putting full games together, and if we do that we're going to be tough to beat. We started to settle for 3s and stopped attacking like we did in the first half. We were able to get everyone back on the same page in overtime and found a way to win the game."
Odessa would get back within three, 94-91 as Butler made one of two free throws with 10 seconds remaining. Following a pair of missed free throws from South Plains, Odessa would get the ball back and cut the Texans' lead to one, 94-93 on two free throws from Leter. Odessa would foul Gatkuoth, who knocked down a pair from the charity stripe to put the Texans up 96-93 with five seconds to play. Booker would get off a final shot for the Wranglers as time expired, but it would fall short to send the Texans to the top of the conference standings.
Gardner recorded his fourth double-double, finishing with 22 points and 12 boards, dropping in 5 of 10 shots from the floor, and was 11 of 12 from the free throw line. Gebrewhit netted 4 of 7 shots, dished out a team-high six assists, and was 10 of 11 from the charity stripe.
Gatkuoth dropped in a season-high 16 points, connecting on 5 of 5 shots from the floor including a perfect 3-for-3 from the 3-point line coming off the bench. Soares netted 14 points while Jevonnie Scott had 10 as the Texans shot 47.5 percent (29-61) from the field and were 10 of 25 from distance.
Butler led the Wranglers with 16 points over 23 minutes, while Booker had 14 coming off the bench and Leter chipped in 13. Odessa shot a 36.6 percent clip from the floor and was 10 of 24 from 3. Both teams struggled from the free throw line, with Odessa going 31 of 47 from the stripe, while the Texans were 28 of 41.
South Plains had the advantage inside, outscoring the Wranglers 34-26 in the paint with both teams scoring 17 points off turnovers. The Texans received 56 points from their bench and scored 10 points on second-chance opportunities.