KATY — Senior Devin Gibson posted a double-double and No. 7 seed UTSA toppled third-seeded Sam Houston State, 79-70, in Thursday's first semifinal of the State Farm Southland Conference Tournament.
A day after scoring a career-high 28 points in the quarterfinals, Gibson poured in 26 on 6-of-12 shooting, including a trio of 3-pointers, and was 11-for-15 at the free-throw line in registering his second straight 20-point contest to guide the Roadrunners (18-13) into the tournament championship game for the second time in three seasons. One day after his NCAA-leading second triple-double of the campaign, the Houston native pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds for his seventh double-double of the season and he added six assists and a pair of steals in playing all but one minute.
"I thought it was a very hard-fought game on both sides," head coach Brooks Thompson said during his postgame press conference. "I think our guys were very deserving of this victory. They played very well and I think ever since the UT Arlington game that advanced us to the tournament, we’ve been playing very good ball, but we are by no means satisfied yet."
"Like I said yesterday, we used the UTA game as a motivational tool,” Gibson said. “We were down 10 at half to UTA and the guys got together and decided that we’re not going home. We really picked it up defensively and guys started playing their roles, we started trusting each other more for the rest of the season and I really feel like that has carried over into the tournament."
Sophomore Melvin Johnson III and junior Sei Paye joined Gibson in double figures with 14 and 12 points, respectively, while junior Larry Wilkins turned in seven points to go along with eight boards.
UTSA shot 50 percent from the field, including 9-of-15 from behind the 3-point line, and made 24-of-33 at the charity stripe. The Roadrunners also out-rebounded the Bearkats, 42-35, and held them to just 34.8-percent shooting, 8-of-36 (22.2 percent) from downtown.
In a game that featured six ties and a total of 10 lead changes, UTSA never trailed by more than three points, which was the case when Lance Pevehouse drilled a trey to put Sam Houston up, 52-49, with 12:55 to play.
A tip-in by junior Alex Vouyoukas and a long distance connection from Johnson III on the next two possessions gave the lead back to UTSA for good with just under 12 minutes to play.
The Roadrunners increased their advantage to a half dozen after Johnson III got hot with a jumper and a pair of free throws to make it 63-57 with 5:11 left on the clock.
Sam Houston made things interesting by fouling to extend the game in the final four minutes. The Roadrunners made six of their next eight from the line to push the lead to double digits (69-59) with 3:03 remaining.
The Bearkats (18-13) cut the deficit to six after another Pevehouse trey made it 72-66 with less than two minutes to go. However, Sam Houston went cold from there, missing six of its next seven shots, while UTSA made 10-of-14 from the line to clinch the program’s seventh all-time tournament championship game appearance (six Southland/one Trans-America Athletic Conference).
Southland Player of the Year Gilberto Clavell led the Bearkats with 25 points behind a 9-for-10 night at the charity stripe and he added seven rebounds. Josten Crown pitched in with 12 points and Antuan Bootle posted eight and a team-high nine boards.
UTSA built a 10-point lead midway through the first half. One day after he went 4-for-4 from the floor, Paye knocked down his first three field-goal attempts, including a three from the wing, and Gibson drained a trifecta from the top of the circle to give the Roadrunners a 27-17 advantage.
The Bearkats responded with 10 unanswered points to knot the score at 27 with just under six minutes left in the half. The teams traded leads four times and Bootle followed a missed half-court, desperation heave by Clavell with a dunk just before the buzzer to create a 37-37 tie at the half.
Gibson nearly had his double-double at the break with 15 points and nine rebounds, as the Roadrunners outworked Sam Houston on the glass, 20-12. UTSA shot 52 percent from the floor and made 5-of-9 from downtown to offset foul trouble and the Bearkats six 3-pointers.
The Roadrunners will face Regular Season Champion McNeese State (21-10) on Saturday in the Southland Tournament Championship Game. Tip for the nationally-televised contest is scheduled for 3 p.m. on ESPN2. UTSA downed the Cowboys at home, 65-61, on Feb. 16.
"It feels great to know that all the hard work that you put in spring and summer, especially during conditioning, has paid off," Gibson said.
The last time UTSA advanced to the title game was two years ago,
also in the Merrell Center, where it lost to top seed Stephen F. Austin,
68-57. The Roadrunners' last championship-game victory was a 74-70
decision against SFA in 2004, which sent the Roadrunners to their third
NCAA Tournament appearance in program history.