MBB: Late-Game Defense Pushes Mavs to 81-71 Win

Feb. 20, 2017

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STATESBORO, Ga. -- A stifling late-game defense and the inside scoring punch of senior Jorge Bilbao led the UTA men's basketball team to an 81-71 win at Georgia Southern to remaining in first place in the Sun Belt Conference standings, on Monday night at Hanner Fieldhouse.

A game after receiving five stitches, Bilbao continued to shine with his late-game toughness, scoring eight straight points in the second half for UTA as the Mavs built a back-and-forth game into a double-digit lead in the final five minutes.

The Mavs held GSU without a field goal for over four minutes, in the second half as Bilbao, Drew Charles, Kevin Hervey, Jalen Jones and Erick Neal took control of the game with clutch defensive toughness and key shots. Bilbao and Hervey each contributed team highs in points, with Bilbao owning 16 points and eight rebounds. Hervey charted his 11th double-double of 2016-17 with a career-high 28 points and 13 rebounds.

UTA (21-6, 11-3 SBC) sits in sole possession of first place after winning nine of its last 10 games. UTA has a two-game lead on Georgia Southern and a half game lead over Arkansas State, with ASTATE hosting Georgia Southern on Saturday. UTA concludes the season with a homestand with 7-6 Troy (Feb. 27), 1-13 ULM (March 2) and 6-8 Louisiana (March 4).

The Mavs are over the 20-win plateau for the sixth time in program history, while sporting a NCAA RPI of 36 entering the win at GSU.

The win at Georgia Southern completed a sweep of a must-win road trip through Georgia for the Mavs, as UTA earned a dramatic 68-67 win at Georgia State on Saturday on a last gasp three points from Neal.

Georgia Southern (17-11, 10-5 SBC) had its nine-game home winning streak snapped in the loss to UTA and finish the year with a 10-2 mark at Hanner Fieldhouse. Ike Smith led the way for the Eagles with 27 points, adding two boards and three assists.

First Half
Hervey opened the scoring with a triple from the corner with a minute off the clock. Ike Smith answered for Georgia Southern with three pointers on three straight possessions with Neal getting a triple of his own in a 9-6 game. Hervey showcased his all-around ability in the post, finding an open Jones for his second three pointer of the game. After GSU sank a three at the top of the key, Kaelon Wilson took the ball to the rim to give UTA a 17-16 lead at the under 12-minute break.

Bilbao and Faith Pope then went to work in the paint, scoring the next six points for the Mavs but Georgia Southern evened up the game with a bucket and free throw with six minutes left. Bilbao immediately answered with a basket in the paint to give UTA a 31-29 lead. After another Bilbao basket and a defensive stop, Neal found Julian Harris on a perfect pass under the bucket, leading to a basket, a 35-31 lead and a GSU timeout. Smith's torrid pace continued for the Eagles as the guard drilled a triple, his 19th points of the game, to bring the game to 37-37. A highly contested three from the wing for B.J. Gladden, deep behind the arc, sent GSU to halftime with a 40-37 lead.

Second Half
Georgia Southern went on a 5-0 run to open the second half before Charles hit his first three pointer of the game to make it a 45-40 game with 18:54 left. GSU scored the next four points before Hervey and a three-pointer from Neal cut the Eagles lead to one. Neal and Boykins traded triples on the next possessions to take the game to 52-51 at the under 16-minute media timeout.

Four points combined from Harris and Hervey, all coming from the charity stripe, for the Mavs evened up the game at 55-55 with 13:13 left. After a steal from Wilson, a lob to the rim and lay-in for Pope gave UTA its first lead in the final stanza, 59-58 with 10 minutes left. Back-to-back buckets in the paint from Bilbao tied the game and gave the Mavs a 65-53 lead with just under seven minutes in regulation. Neal's pass to Bilbao gave the big man six straight points for the Mavs and a 67-55 lead on the next possession. UTA's defense then stepped up and forced a shot-clock violation and Bilbao was fouled on the next possession, hitting both free throws for a four-point lead with 5:19 left.

The big sequence in the final five minutes came after a strong defensive rebound from Bilbao on one end and a triple from Charles on the wing to stretch the lead to 72-65, forcing a GSU timeout with 4:37 left. Hervey was then found by Bilbao from deep behind the arc, giving the Mavs a 10-point lead with just under four minutes remaining. The Eagles cut the lead to seven but Hervey answered again, giving UTA a 78-68 lead in the final two minutes of the game.

Hervey had a career-high with his 28 points, adding 13 rebounds, three assists and a block and a steal. Bilbao finished with 16 points in 29 minutes with Neal adding 11 points, four rebounds and four assists. Jones had eight points and four rebounds, with Pope charting six points and three boards.

The Mavs return to action on Saturday, hosting South Alabama in a 4:30 p.m. CT tipoff. The game will be broadcast live on UTAMavs.com, with the Voice of the Mavs, Josh Sours, calling the action. Fans in North Texas can hear the game live on KEXB 620-AM in addition to the TuneIn application.

The 2017 Sun Belt Conference Men's and Women's Basketball Championships are scheduled for a week of March Madness in the Big Easy. New Orleans will once again be home to the two championships that will take place at Lakefront Arena from March 7-12 and ticket books can now be purchased from your school's ticket office. For more information, visit the Sun Belt Conference's championship central websites and be sure to follow the Sun Belt on social media - @SunBelt.




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