The Southland title game is deceiving. On the surface, No. 7 seed Texas-San Antonio would seem like a fairly big underdog to regular-season champion and top seed McNeese State. In what was the tightest conference race in the country, though, UTSA actually finished only two games behind McNeese during the regular season. The lower-seeded Roadrunners actually beat the champs in the lone meeting between the two.
McNeese State (21-10, 11-5) had the most consistent regular season of any team in the conference, finishing by winning four of its final five games to get the outright title. The Cowboys have not dominated their opponents in the tournament, beating Anatoly Bose and Nicholls State in a slow-down, 61-54 win and then knocking off Texas State in an up-and-down, 91-83 affair. McNeese State would prefer something in between those tempos.
The Cowboys take care of the ball offensively and can hurt defenses in a variety of ways. They get to the foul line as well as anyone in the conference and can get hot from behind the arc. Five players average at least 9.6 points per game, with Patrick Richard leading the way. Richard has notched double-figures in 19 straight games. Diego Kapelan is a gunner, while Stephan Martin has been inconsistent of late. P.J. Alawoya gets double-doubles down low.
Texas-San Antonio (18-13, 9-7) has won four in a row heading into Saturday’s championship game. The Roadrunners needed heroics in the opener of the conference tournament, as Jerome Hill dunked the game-winning basket with two seconds left to beat No. 2 Northwestern State, 97-76. They then forced Sam Houston State into an eye-popping 28 missed 3-pointers in the semifinals to advance over the Bearkats.
The Roadrunners go as far as star guard Devin Gibson carries them. Gibson has been at his peak in the conference tournament, racking up a triple-double in the quarterfinals and averaging 27.0 points, 10.5 rebounds, 8.0 assists and 2.5 steals in two games. He can change a game at both ends of the floor. Backcourt mate Melvin Johnson III has been playing well lately, providing an outside threat, while freshman Jerome Hill bangs down low. UTSA loves shooting fro deep and getting to the free-throw line.
This should be highly-entertaining battle between two teams who like to drive aggressively to the basket and fire away from 3-point range on a consistent basis. The key for McNeese State will obviously be limiting Devin Gibson’s impact on the game. He is playing the best basketball of his career right now, and can carry UTSA to an automatic bid. On the other side, UTSA can’t allow McNeese State to get hot from deep. The Cowboys can then keep the defense on its heels with penetration and playmaking.
Texas-San Antonio is on roll right now, and Gibson is the type of player who can single-handedly bring the Roadrunners into the Big Dance. If McNeese State is to stop him, it will need to play disciplined at that end of the floor and avoid fouling. Meanwhile, McNeese State might have too many offensive options for UTSA. Something has to give.
Photo: US Presswire
Posted by Jeff Borzello
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