Senior Devin Gibson registered his NCAA-leading second triple-double of the season to help seventh-seeded UTSA rally from a 14-point, second-half deficit and score a thrilling 97-96 victory against No. 2 seed Northwestern State in Wednesday's opening quarterfinal of the State Farm Southland Conference Tournament.
The Roadrunners (17-13) trailed 81-67 with seven minutes and 40 seconds to play at the Merrell Center, but they rallied to move into the semifinals for the second time in the past three seasons.
Down by one with less than 10 seconds to play, Gibson —
who finished the contest with a career-high 28 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists —
found freshman Jeromie Hill all alone under the basket for a slam dunk with two seconds left to complete the frantic comeback, as well as the triple-double, which sent the Demons (18-14) home.
Gibson, who earned first-team NABC All-District 23 honors prior to tip-off, joined Xavier’s Terrell Holloway as the only two players in the
nation to record a pair of triple-doubles this season. Playing in his
school-record-tying 115th game, the Houston native also matched the
program mark for career assists, 536, which he now shares with Lloyd
"I'm still kind of calming down a little bit from this win, but what a basketball game," head coach Brooks Thompson said in his postgame press conference. "It's a shame that somebody had to lose. I thought Northwestern State played a fabulous basketball game. I didn't feel like we played particularly well for quite a bit of the game, but on the flip side of that, I have to give Northwestern State a lot of credit, because they didn’t deserve to lose.
"I'm very proud of our guys, because they never gave up. I could tell at every timeout how they were talking and by their demeanor that they were not giving up. We came together as a basketball team and as a family and made the plays we had to make late in the game."
"We came out and got down pretty big, but no one gave up," Gibson added. “We used the UTA game (rallied from 10-point deficit to win) as a motivational tool and we weren’t ready to go home. We never gave up.”
"I knew Devin was going to make a play at the end," Hill said of the game-winning assist. "He always makes the right decision, so I was just trying my best to find an opening, and he made a dime. All I had to do was finish it."
Gibson scored 12 of his points during the comeback, including seven in the final two minutes, despite picking up his fourth foul at the 5:39 mark. He also added three steals in his 35 minutes of action.
"Devin's triple-double was truly remarkable,” head coach Brooks Thompson said. “To have the poise that he had today and the leadership ability to rally his teammates was absolutely fabulous. To have 10 assists is incredible, but his biggest one was at the end of the game to Jeromie. That’s what senior leaders do. It's one of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen and probably the greatest one I've ever coached."
Northwestern State’s William Mosley converted a pair of free throws to give the Demons a 93-88 lead with 2:18 left to play. Gibson then began UTSA’s rally with a jumper at the two-minute mark to make it a one-possession contest.
Louis Ellis then missed two short shot attempts in the paint and Hill cleared the boards to give the ball back to UTSA with 1:25 remaining on the clock.
Gibson stopped and popped from the top of the circle for his second 3-pointer of the afternoon with 1:08 to go to knot the score at 93.
After a quick timeout, the UTSA defense forced a miss in the lane by Will Pratt, who poured in 26 for the Demons, at the other end and Gibson soared for the board to give the Roadrunners a chance to take the lead for the first time since the 17:35 mark in the opening frame.
With the clock winding down to less than 30 seconds, Gibson dribbled to the right elbow and found the bottom of the net to put UTSA in front, 95-93.
Northwestern State's Devon Baker dribbled to the right side of the basket on the ensuing possession and was fouled on a layup with 10 seconds on the clock. He converted the 3-point play to put the Demons up one.
That set the stage for the final play that saw Gibson break down the defense, draw a triple team and zip a pass to Hill for an emphatic dunk to give UTSA the winning points.
The Demons inbounded but were unable to get a shot off before the final buzzer.
Hill registered 25 points on 10-of-14 shooting, including 2-of-3 from downtown, two points shy of his season-high of 27 posted at Evansville (Nov. 17). Sophomore Melvin Johnson III added 18 on the strength of a 3-for-5 effort from beyond the arc and three steals, while junior Sei Paye contributed 11 points.
The Roadrunners shot 58.6 percent from the floor, including 10-of-15 from downtown, and made 19-of-24 (79.2 percent) at the free-throw line in their fourth consecutive and 16th all-time appearance in the Southland Tournament.
Ellis (16), Baker (15) and Mosley (11) joined Pratt in double figures for Northwestern State, which shot 49.2 percent overall and tied a tournament record with 14 3-pointers. Mosley also pulled down a game-best 12 boards and the NCAA’s leading shot blocker added five more to his season tally.
The Demons blistered the nets in the first half, draining 10 of 19 from long range en route to a 49-43 halftime advantage.
It marked the most points the Roadrunners had allowed in the first half all season (previous: 48, Tulsa).
"We felt like we had to be perfect early, but once our backs were
against the wall, we just relaxed and laid it all on the line,"
Johnson III said.
Northwestern State made eight of its first 11 attempts from behind the arc to start the game, including Ellis hitting on all three of his tries, in building a 33-22 lead through the first nine minutes.
UTSA responded with a 16-5 run that was keyed by seven points from Johnson III and capped by a reverse layup from junior Larry Wilkins to tie the tilt at 38 with 6:46 left in the half.
With starters Franklin, Gibson and Johnson III on the bench for the final four minutes of the first, the Demons were able to close the stanza with an 11-5 stretch, which included another trey by Ellis, and they took a six-point advantage into the locker room.
The lead grew to 14 after a Baker fast-break layup made it 63-49 five minutes into the second half. The Roadrunners answered with eight straight points in a 56-second span behind 3-pointers from Johnson III and Gibson to make it a six-point game. Gibson then made 1-of-2 at the charity stripe to get UTSA to within 64-59 with 12:18 to go.
However, the Demons once again extended the lead into double figures after a fade-away three by Pratt put them up 74-62. Another trey by Baker at the 7:40 mark pushed it back out to 14, which matched Northwestern State's largest of the game.
UTSA would not quit, as back-to-back steals by Gibson and Paye brought the Birds to within eight with less than seven minutes to play.
A long-distance connection from the wing by Hill cut the deficit to 91-85 with just over three minutes remaining. He was fouled while shooting a three on the next possession and made all three freebies to make it a one-possession game and set up the final minutes.
UTSA will face No. 3 Sam Houston State (18-12) in the first semifinal at 6 p.m. on Thursday. The Beakats defeated sixth seed Stephen F. Austin, 61-45, following the Roadrunners' victory and they swept the Birds by scores of 62-59 (Jan. 8) and 88-67 (Jan. 29) during the regular season.
The game will be televised by the Southland TV Network (on KCWX digital channel 2.2 in San Antonio) and a free video stream will be available online at espn3.com
Two years ago, UTSA defeated Nicholls, 57-55, in the semifinal round to advance to the program's first championship game since 2004.