March 12, 2015
By Art Garcia | @ArtGarcia92
NEW ORLEANS - UT Arlington's season came to an abrupt end with a 68-62 loss to rival Texas State in Thursday's opening round of the Sun Belt Conference Championship.
The fifth-seeded Mavericks nearly rallied from a 12-point deficit in the second half, but couldn't finish the deal against the No. 8 Bobcats. UTA's finished 16-15 with five losses in the last six games.
"I'm disappointed for our four seniors especially," UT Arlington coach Scott Cross said. "They've given a lot to the program. They've worked extremely hard. They've helped us win a lot of games. We're going to miss these guys."
The loss marked the end of the UTA careers for seniors Jamel Outler, Lonnie McClanahan, Greg Gainey and Anthony Walker. Outler scored a team-high 15 points, with McClanahan and Walker each scoring 12.
The future appears bright for the program with a number of key contributors back next season, including a four-man freshman class that gained significant experience. Erick Neal, Kevin Hervey and Kaelon Wilson all started multiple games, while Julian Harris saw his playing time increase in recent weeks.
"All of the freshmen have a bright future ahead of them," McClanahan said. "If they keep at the pace they are at now, they are not playing like freshmen. I believe they are playing like upperclassmen."
Injuries took a toll on the Mavericks are the year wore on, especially in the backcourt. UTA lost a pair of leaders in Johnny Hill and Drew Charles to season-ending surgeries, and several players were banged up going into the conference tournament. Hill and Charles will return next season.
Cross, however, has always refused to use injuries as an excuse. He chalked up the finale to intangibles such as toughness that were missing with the season on the line.
"Our depth has been hurt a little bit with injuries to Johnny Hill and Drew Charles," Cross said. "But you have to give credit to them for what they did, for how tough [and] physical they were, because, to be honest, they did a great job of taking us out of our sets. It was hard for us to run our halfcourt sets because they were doing such a good job denying our passes and it broke us down. There was a lot of standing on our part and we looked a bit confused because we couldn't run those sets, so you just have to give them credit. I think they wanted it, they were tougher and they got it done."
Other than one stretch in both the first and second half, the Mavericks were never able to gain a solid footing against Texas State. UTA attempted to force the tempo and create turnovers by pressing fullcourt, but the Bobcats were able to take care of the ball and get to the basket.
"Texas State did an outstanding job tonight," Cross said. "I think their defense was very tough and physical. They did a great job of defending the paint and preventing Lonnie from getting in there. Obviously they scouted us very well and they were just a tad bit tougher than us tonight, I think is what it comes down to.
"They did a great job. You have to give them credit. They handled our pressure. We pressed them pretty much the entire game and we only had two steals and they only turned it over 10 times, so that's a credit to them and their guards, and how calm and composed they play."
Texas State (14-16) was also to keep the Mavs out of the lane effectively. UTA also struggled from long range, missed 20 of 26 3-point tries.
"They tried to pack to paint and make sure I couldn't get in there," McClanahan said.
The Mavericks went into halftime down 33-29 despite outshooting and outrebounding Texas State. The Bobcats were also held scoreless for more than seven minutes at one point, as UTA reeled off a 9-0 run to take an 18-13 lead.
The difference came at the line. Texas State enjoyed a nine-point edge in made free throws, making 11 of 14 while UTA was 2-4. Four Mavericks had two fouls in the first half, with UTA committing 11 as a team. The Bobcats had six fouls.
The Bobcats seized control and opened up a double-digit lead midway through the second half. UTA was down 54-42 before rallying with a 12-0 run that featured two 3-pointers from Neal.
The Bobcats responded and took a 61-56 going into the final two minutes before holding on to beat UTA for the first time in three games this season. The Mavs also had an eight-game winning streak in the series snapped.
NOTES: Sophomore guard Drew Charles received his Sun Belt academic honor roll award before the game. ... UTA is 7-7 in conference tournament games under Cross. ... UTA is 1-2 in the Sun Belt Championship in two years in the league.
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