ODESSA — The top-ranked South Plains College men's basketball team battled back from a 16-point second half deficit to get within four points in the final minutes of Thursday night's showdown with third-ranked Odessa, but a pair of timely free throws in the final seconds would be enough as the Wranglers topped the Texans 74-68 at the OC Sports Center.
Despite the loss, the first for South Plains this season moving their record to 17-1 on the year and 12-1 in league play, the Texans earned a share of the Western Junior College Athletic Conference title, which they split with Odessa, who also finished with a single loss in conference.
Following Thursday's game, the Texans were named the No. 1 seed in the WJCAC Men's Basketball Tournament, which came via a coin flip tiebreaker. South Plains will make their postseason debut on Tuesday, April 6th at 8 p.m. at Lubbock Christian University. The Texans will take on the winner of Monday night's 6 p.m. matchup which features fourth-seeded Howard College, who will await the winner of Clarendon College, the fifth seed, and Midland College, the eighth seed, who play at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday.
Trailing by 14 at the midway point, The Texans would get within striking distance at the 14:46 mark of the second half as sophomore big man Yuot Gai dropped in a jump shot to trim the deficit to 45-36. South Plains continued to chip away, getting within five with 9:21 to play thanks to a Philmon Gebrewhit 3-pointer to bring the score to 56-51 in favor of Odessa.
Odessa would answer and extend their lead back to nine, 70-61 with under five minutes left on a jumper from Alphousseyni Diedhiou. South Plains responded with a 5-0 run, getting within four, 70-66 on another 3 from Gebrewhit with 2:50 to go. Following a pair of free throws from the Texans' Jevonnie Scott which brought the score to 72-68, South Plains would foul Odessa's Tre Richardson with 29 seconds to play. Richardson knocked down a pair of free throws to put the Wranglers up six in the final seconds, evening the series at a game apiece in league play.
South Plains' Rivaldo Soares led all scorers in the contest with 21 points and 13 boards, connecting on 6 of 13 shots from the field, and was 3 of 7 from distance over 40 minutes. Gebrewhit provided 14 points off the bench for the Texans, pouring in a trio of 3s and was 5 of 6 from the charity stripe. Gai netted 12 points and five rebounds while Benjamin Bayela had eight points and Dalph Panopio had six points.