WOLFFORTH—Small setback for a major comeback.
Despite a 49 percent shooting mark, the top-ranked South Plains College Texans fell to Western Texas 82-74 in the semifinal round of the NJCAA Region V Tournament on Friday night at the Tiger Pit.
Jahlil Tripp led the Texans with 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting over 31 minutes. Josh Webster recorded 17 points, four assists and two blocks for South Plains. Leading scorer Jordan Brangers was held to a season-low eight points, attempting just nine shots in 31 minutes. The Texans were forced into a season-high 23 turnovers and shot just 50 percent from the charity stripe in the contest.
"I thought from the word go they were just a lot more aggressive than we were," South Plains head coach Steve Green said. "We've played them three times and we've seen that effort one other time, definitely, and we acted like we were a little bit surprised. I thought they were more aggressive than us and they took it to us and kicked our butt to be honest."
The Texans(29-1) shot 51 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes and held the Westerners to a 39 percent mark before the break, yet trailed 32-31 at the midway point. The Westerners' Jordan Tolbert connected on a 3 from the left wing to give Western a 19-9 advantage with 14:20 left in the first half. Justice Green answered at the 9:36 mark with a 3-ball which cut the deficit to 19-16 and capped a 7-0 Texans' run.
A conversion at the rim from Tripp while being fouled, knocking down the and-one gave South Plains its first lead since the opening minutes, 25-23. Anton Bilas put the Westerners(22-9) back in front 30-29 with a trey from the corner with 2:44 left in the first half.
"We had 15 turnovers in the first half, and that's just frustration and just not being sharp," Green said. "They didn't do anything different than anything else has, we just didn't handle it as well."
Raquan Mitchell opened the second half with a 3 from the right wing to give South Plains a 34-32 lead. Tolbert responded for the Westerners with a triple of his own which put Western Texas back in front 35-34. Kolbe Kinghorn hit from the perimeter with 12:15 remaining to extend the Westerners' lead to 49-40.
Webster brought the Texans back within seven with a conversion at the rim in traffic at the 10:17 mark. A 3-ball from Brangers with 7:20 to play pulled the Texans within four, 54-50. Western Texas would precede to go on a 6-0 run capped off by DaQuan Jeffries' slam which extended the lead to 65-56 with under five minutes left.
South Plains' Grantham Gillard would knock down a pair of 3s, the second coming with 1:03 on the clock that brought the Texans within five, 73-68. Tripp would hit a pair of free throws with 26 second remaining to trim the lead to 76-72, but it wouldn't be enough as the Westerners ran out the remaining seconds and escaped with an eight point win.
With one of the top records in the country and four wins over top 25 programs, the Texans will look to secure an at-large bid to the NJCAA Men's National Tournament on March 20-25 in Hutchinson, Kansas. The 24-team bracket will be decided on Sunday, March 12.