In October, a preseason basketball coaches poll had Texas State’s men’s team finishing dead last in the Sun Belt, with the women’s team coming in sixth.
Those projections were understandable.
Both teams endured losing seasons last year, and the men were returning only five players from its 2016 roster.
Five months later, both Bobcats teams finished with winning records, No. 4 seeds in this week’s Sun Belt tournament and first-round byes into the quarterfinals.
The men (18-12, 11-7) face 12th-seeded Louisiana Monroe, which beat fifth-seed Arkansas State 73-70 in overtime Wednesday, in the quarterfinals at 2 p.m. Friday at Lakefront Arena in New Orleans. The women (16-13, 11-7) will play fifth seed Louisiana-Lafayette at 2 p.m. Thursday.
This is the first winning season for the Bobcats in Danny Kaspar’s four years in San Marcos. In fact, it’s the first time the men have had a winning season in 14 years.
“We’re tougher this year,” said forward Kavin Gilder-Tilbury. “The February and March months are the toughest out of the whole season, and teams have to stay together during this time. A lot of teams fold and a lot of teams rise.
“I feel like last year we let emotions and other things get to us, affecting our game. This year, we’re not letting anything distract us; we’re just trying to win games and focus on every little thing. Every possession matters. We’re just staying together no matter what.”
Gilder-Tilbury was named to the all-conference first team, the first time a Bobcat has made the first team since Terry Conerway in 2003. Gilber-Tilbury led the Bobcats in scoring at 16.8 points per game. He has scored in double figures in 28 of Texas State’s 30 games, including the last 19 in a row. He earned Sun Belt player of the week honors twice this season.
Freshman guard Nijal Pearson was named the Sun Belt’s player of the week to end the season; Gilder-Tilbury had won it the week before.
On the women’s team, junior guard Taeler Deer was named to the All-Sun Belt’s third team, the first all-conference honor of her career. She scored in double figures in 15 of the team’s 29 games, including four 20-point performances. She was the Sun Belt’s second-best three-point shooter, at 45.7 percent.