Sun Belt coaches didn’t think as highly about Texas State as they did UT-Arlington, who was picked to win the conference with 10 of the 12 coaches giving the Mavericks their first-place vote in the preseason coaches poll.
The Bobcats (9-6, 2-1 Sun Belt), picked to finish dead last, took exception to the poll and defeated the Mavericks 81-73 Saturday at Strahan Coliseum.
“Needless to say, this is a very pleasing win,” Texas State coach Danny Kaspar said. “I’m particularly happy for our players. I didn’t know what to think after that loss last Monday (Coastal Carolina, 60-53). It was a good win. I thought the guys played very inspired. We had several good performances and I think we defended them well in the second half. I’m very happy with the win and very happy with how our players bounced back after Monday’s loss.”
Saturday’s win was the first time Texas State has defeated UT-Arlington (12-4, 2-1) during the regular season in five seasons.
“In past years, we haven’t been able to beat these guys,” said senior point guard Ojai Black. “We had that meltdown in the conference tournament last year. So, we kind of owed them. (UTA) is a great team, we knew coming into this game it was going to be a tough, grind-out game for 40 minutes.”
Black scored a career-high 16 points and dished out six assists. He was one of four Bobcats to score in double figures, along with his fellow seniors Kavin Gilder-Tilbury (21) and Bobby Conley (11), as well as freshman guard Nijal Pearson (14).
While the offense by the Bobcats put on a solid performance, the defense came up just as big, forcing 14 turnovers, including four steals by Gilder-Tilbury.
Taking on the tough assignments of guarding UTA standouts Kevin Hervey and Eric Neal – both preseason first team selections, with Hervey being preseason conference player of the year – wasn’t easy, but it was something the Bobcats were prepared for going into Saturday’s upset.
“We were locked in all week,” Black said. “We let one get away from us last week, against Coastal (Carolina) so we really came in with the mind set of beating these guys. Just play the possession. That’s what coach was telling us all week and that’s what we did. We thought about each possession, not just about winning the game but we thought about winning the possession.”
After the win, the Bobcats moved up into a six-way tie for second place in the Sun Belt, which includes the Mavericks, Louisiana Lafayette, Arkansas State, Arkansas-Little Rock and Coastal Carolina.
Despite the big win, the celebration in San Marcos doesn’t seem to be lasting too long, as the coaches and players know there is still plenty of games left to play.
“This was a great win but we can’t let this be the highlight of our season,” Conley said. “We can’t get too high with this win. Just keep on pushing forward to the next game and start preparing tomorrow.”
Texas State at South Alabama, 3:05 p.m.