LUBBOCK — The South Plains College men's basketball team erased an 11 point first half deficit, but a late surge from Howard College in the final minutes of Tuesday's Western Junior College Athletic Conference Tournament semi-final matchup was enough to push the Hawks past the Texans 61-60 at the Rip Griffin Center.
The top-ranked Texans move to 17-2 on the season and will look to secure one of eight at-large bids to the NJCAA Men's Basketball National Tournament April 19-24 in Hutchinson, Kansas.
Trailing 29-28 at the midway point, South Plains would take a four point lead, 35-31 at the 16:38 mark of the second half thanks to a 3-pointer from sophomore Mareng Gatkuoth. Howard would answer with a 6-0 run to retake the lead 37-35 on a jumper from JR Smith. Howard would extend its lead to seven with 8:06 to play as Blaize Sagna dropped in a 3 to bring the score to 46-39.
South Plains would answer back with a 13-5 run to take a 52-51 lead with 4:51 to play as Dalph Panopio connected on a 3 from the top of the key. Panopio would hit from the outside again, this time at the 4:14 mark to give SPC a 55-51 advantage. The Hawks countered with a 6-0 run, retaking the lead at 57-55 on a triple from Jacoby Bishop with 2:14 remaining.
Trailing 61-57 with 12 seconds to go, sophomore Rivaldo Soares took an inbound pass from Philmon Gebrewhit and connected from the outside to get the Texans within one, 61-60. Following a timeout by South Plains, the Texans would still the inbound pass and call a timeout to set up a final play with 2.9 seconds to play. Getting the ball into the hands of Soares on the inbound, Soares drove the ball up the left side of the floor but was unable to convert as the contact at the rim went uncalled, allowing Howard to escape in the final seconds.
Soares finished with a team-high 14 points and six rebounds, dropping in 5 of 14 shots including a pair of 3s over 38 minutes. Panopio tallied 14 points, knocking down four 3s in the contest. Gebrewhit totaled 10 points and four boards as the Texans shot 42 percent from the field and 39.1 percent from distance.
Sagna finished with a game-high 16 points on 7 of 13 shooting for Howard while Bishop had 14 points and Smith netted 10. The Hawks shot 43.6 percent from the field and 35 percent from distance.