Texas State moves into Sun Belt finals with upset of top-seeded UTA

In Danny Kaspar’s fourth season as Texas State’s men’s basketball coach, he guided the Bobcats to a .500 record for the first time in 14 years. Now, two wins into the Sun Belt Tournament, he’s produced the first 20-win season since 1994 and has the Bobcats one win from the NCAA Tournament.

The fourth-seeded Bobcats upset top-seeded UT-Arlington 83-61 Saturday in the Sun Belt semifinals. Texas State (20-12) will meet the winner of second-seeded Georgia State and sixth-seeded Troy.

“It took awhile to heal that culture at Texas State,” Kaspar said in his postgame press conference. “This was my third program in which they were struggling, and I’ve taken over. … What we’ve done is we’ve recruited some people that have helped establish a culture that’s all about the team and not about me. I’m very excited for this opportunity to go back to the big dance.”

Five Bobcats scored in double figures.

Texas State started slowly but fought back by halftime; Immanuel King’s layup gave the Bobcats a 28-26 lead with 5 minutes, 33 seconds left in the half, and they never trailed again.

Bobby Conley led the Bobcats with 16 points, hitting four of five 3-point attempts. Nijal Pearson had 14 points, five rebounds and four assists. King scored a career-high 13 points and had five rebounds.

Texas State led 41-32 at halftime.

“We really respected this UTA team,” Kaspar said. “They are very well-coached, and they’ve got talent. (Kevin Hervey) is one of the best I’ve seen, and for us to hold him to 10 points is a tribute to Kavin (Gilder-Tilbury) and Nijal and Nedja (Prijovic), who took turns guarding him. I feel like we beat a pretty good team today, a very good team.”

Prijovic added 11 points, going 5 for 5 from the free-throw line.

Gilder-Tilbury, Texas State’s leading scorer this season, had a bounce-back game against UT-Arlington, scoring 12 points and grabbing a team-high six rebounds. He got into foul trouble and scored only four points in the Bobcats’ quarterfinal win.

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