By Art Garcia | @ArtGarcia92
NEWARK, New Jersey – UT Arlington's longest postseason run ended with Thursday night's 63-60 loss to NJIT in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament quarterfinals at Fleisher Athletic Center.
The Mavericks finished the season 24-11, tying a program record for victories while recording a postseason win for the first time ever in last week's CIT first round. UTA was also the last remaining Sun Belt team in the postseason.
UTA nearly battled back from a seven-point deficit (58-51) in the last two minutes. The Mavericks had two potential game-tying 3-pointers in the closing seconds that didn't fall, including Drew Charles' try at the buzzer.
Charles led the Mavs with 14 points, but shot only 6-17 from the floor and 2-10 beyond the arc. Jalen Jones had 12 points and 10 rebounds for his fourth double-double, but missed all six of his 3-point attempts.
Charles and Jones were UTA's best 3-point shooters on the season. The Mavs were only 6-27 (22.2 percent) from deep, and 25-67 (37.3 percent) from the floor overall. UTA shot only 31.8 percent (12-38) in the second half.
Jorge Bilbao had nine rebounds and five points for UTA. Erick Neal scored six (3-13 shooting), grabbed seven boards, dished out five assists and had five steals.
The Highlanders (20-14) advanced to Sunday's semifinal against Columbia by taking the lead early in the second half and forcing UTA to play from behind. An 18-4 run stretching back to the end of first half and into the second gave NJIT a 38-34 edge.
UTA remained close and took its final lead of the second half at 51-50 on Mairega Clarke's free throw with 6:41 remaining. NJIT responded with two 3-pointers to go up 56-51. The Highlanders made 11-25 from downtown for the game.
The Mavs were anything but sharp in the first half, but had a 30-26 lead going into the locker room. UTA had more turnovers (9) than assists (7) and shot 44.8 percent.
Defense and rebounding enabled the Mavericks to hold the early advantage. The Highlanders made only 8-28 shots (28.6 percent) and UTA held a 21-15 edge on the boards.
After the Highlanders scored the first basket of the game, UTA reeled off a 13-0 run. NJIT missed 10 consecutive shots as the Mavs took the early lead.
NJIT shot 51.9 percent (14-27) in the second half. ... UTA outrebounded the Highlanders 45-31. ... The teams combined to shoot just 17 free throws (NJIT 11, UTA season-low 6).
Kaelon Wilson (ankle) and Nathan Hawkins (foot) were both out with injuries. ... Jones had three double-doubles in his last three games and four in the last five. ... UTA finished the season 11-9 away from home. ... UTA is now 1-5 in postseason play all-time, including 1-2 in the CIT.
UT Arlington coach Scott Cross' opening statement:
"This is a tough environment to play in, it's extremely loud and the fans are a big boost for them. We missed some easy shots. We had some wide-open shots and NJIT made their shots. I thought the difference was the 3-point shots. They were hitting them and we couldn't quite find our rhythm offensively."
Cross on the season:
"This team overcame a lot. This is one of the best teams UT Arlington has ever had. We're minus three guys right now. Our guys fought to the very end. I'm proud of our guys. They played hard and it's unfortunate our season came to an end."
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