ABILENE — Freddie De La Cruz had a career night scoring 19 points and secured a game-high 16 rebounds as the South Plains College men's basketball team took down Collin County 72-56 Wednesday night at the Moody Coliseum in their opening matchup of the Region V Tournament.
South Plains advances to the semifinal round where they will meet up with conference foe Western Texas College who took down top-seeded Ranger College Wednesday. The contest is slated for a 3 p.m. tip on Friday and will stream live at spctexans.com.
"Freddie has been playing well since the beginning of February and when the ball is shot he thinks he has the right to go get it," South Plains head coach Steve Green said. "Defensively, you hold a team to 56 points you ought to be able to score 58 and win. I don't think it was our best defensive effort, but I think we were a little jittery and we didn't shoot clean, but I think Collin was the reason why and they got after us."
The Texans would take a 35-30 lead into the locker room at the break but would see their lead erased following a 13-5 run from the Cougars who went up 43-40 on a 3-ball from Tino Sebalj with 12:59 to play. Trailing 47-43, the Texans would answer back with a 15-0 run capped by a two-handed slam from freshman big man Jevonnie Scott to give South Plains a 58-47 advantage with 7:14 left.
Collin County would finally recover and get back within eight as Nighael Ceaser knocked down a jumper to bring the score to 60-52 with just under six minutes remaining. Ceaser would then bring the Cougars within six, 62-56 with a jumper from eight feet with 4:37 to go, but South Plains was quick to answer yet again as Rivaldo Soares dropped in a pair of free throws to put the Texans back up 12, 68-56 with 1:52 on the clock.
Freshman guard Paul Person would ice the game as the six-foot guard from the Bronx knocked down a trey with a second left on the shot clock to extend the Texans lead to 72-56 with 59 ticks left.
"I told them before the game tonight that one mistake in a one-point game and your season is over," Green said. "You really have to be focused and locked in, and it's always good to get the first game out of the way. We're playing a different Western Texas team on Friday. They're not the same team we saw this season, so we will have our hands full."
South Plains shot a 45.5 percent clip for the game as freshman Benjamin Bayela led all scorers with 22 points, connecting on 8 of 19 shots from the floor to go along with two steals and a pair of blocked shots. De La Cruz poured in 8 of 9 shots from the floor, corralling five boards on the offensive end and picked three steals over 30 minutes.
Person tallied 11 points and three rebounds while Scott netted nine points and seven boards. South Plains won the battle on the glass 35-29 and recorded 17 points off 14 turnovers from the Cougars and netted 22 points on second-chance opportunities.