March 1, 2016
By Art Garcia | @ArtGarcia92
ARLINGTON, Texas - The UT Arlington Mavericks opened their final week of the regular season Tuesday night by beating rival Texas State 75-69 at College Park Center for their 20th win of the season.
UTA (20-9) moved into a tie for third place in the Sun Belt with Louisiana. Both teams are 11-7 with two games left until the Sun Belt Championship tournament.
The Mavericks were a study in balance with four scoring in double figures. Kaelon Wilson scored 13, Drew Charles added 11 points, and Jalen Jones and Nick Pallas each scored 10. Jorge Bilbao grabbed nine rebounds and Erick Neal dished out nine assists.
The Mavs won despite shooting 38.6 percent. UTA took advantage of their trips to the line all night, knocking down 25-29 free throws, including 15-17 in the first half. The charity stripe wasn't as kind for the Bobcats, who missed 14 of 27 foul shots.
Unlike the earlier meeting in San Marcos, the Mavericks didn't blow out the Bobcats. Texas State rallied from down 13 early into the second half to trail by one going into the final eight minutes.
The Mavs buckled down at both ends to get separation and nail down the season sweep over Texas State. Wilson's three-point play gave UTA a four-point cushion (61-57) and two possessions later Neal nailed his first basket of the game, a 3-pointer for a 66-57 lead that forced a Texas State timeout.
The Bobcats (12-15) are in ninth in the conference at 6-12, trailing 7-11 Arkansas State by one game for the eighth and final tournament spot.
The Mavs turned a 15-7 deficit into a 28-20 lead in the first half. The 21-5 run covered 7:11 and ended with a 3-pointer from Mairega Clarke.
The Mavs had five steals in the first half - leading to a 13-4 advantage in points off turnovers at the break. ... UTA had a 32-22 edge in points in the paint. ... UTA's bench outscored Texas State 29-15. ... UTA shot less than 40 percent for the sixth time in 18 Sun Belt games.
UTA only has five 20-win seasons in program history, three coming in Scott Cross' 10 years as head coach. The Mavs have won more than 21 only once - a 24-9 campaign in 2011-12. ... UTA swept the season series 2-0 from Texas State and improved to 34-30 all-time. ... UTA improved to 11-2 at home. ... Pallas has scored in double figures in two consecutive games after not doing so previously the entire season. ... The Mavericks took a 39-28 lead into halftime.
The Mavericks play the middle game of a regular season-ending three-game homestand at Thursday night against South Alabama (presented by eSix Sportswear). Tickets are available at UTATickets.com.
UTA coach Scott Cross opening statement:
"It was a tough, hard-fought game. Texas State had no quit in them. You can see there a very good defensive team. Coach Kaspar's teams always defend and rebound. They made it tough on us. They didn't quit. Our guys had to play for 40 minutes. It wasn't our best performance of the year, but anytime you can get a win over a well-coached team like Texas State we'll take it."
Cross on free-throwing shooting:
"Free throws were the difference. We hit ours. They were struggling, at least in the first half they were really struggling to hit them. That's a big part of the game. You've got to be able to hit those shots and I'm glad our guys stepped up with confidence and we hit them when it counted down the stretch."
Drew Charles on free-throw shooting:
"The free throws, we work on them every day and we don't leave practice until we make 80 percent of them. That definitely won us the game. They shot 48 percent and if they would have shot the same as us it probably would have been a different story."
Charles on the next two games:
"We have to win. We have to get third place. We're not going to settle for anything less than that."
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