Texas State men's basketball (3-1) earned a 72-64 victory over the University of the Incarnate Word Cardinals (1-3) Dec. 5 at Strahan Arena.
After a decisive 68-51 loss away against Mississippi State, Interim Head Coach Terrence “TJ” Johnson says he felt good about his players walking away with a win in such a busy and hectic time during the academic year.
“Certainly with the load of finals and [exams], I’m proud of our guys gutting this thing out and getting a win against a very scrappy Incarnate Word team, ” Johnson said. “It’s a good win whenever you can get a win at home against a quality opponent.”
The game was scoreless for the first 2:43 of the first half, after which both teams began to pick up the pace in the scoring column. UIW began its biggest scoring run of the game with 15:50 left in the half, scoring nine unanswered points off three-pointers, leaving the Bobcats trailing 16-11.
Texas State ended its drought with a two-point jumper from junior guard Caleb Asberry with 14:25 left, but the game would go scoreless again until 11:42. The Bobcats found their biggest scoring run of the game in the last minutes of the half, scoring seven uncontested points, pulling ahead 26-24.
UIW scored six straight to jump ahead 31-26 before Texas State closed the period on a 6-3 run to end the half only trailing 34-32.
The Cardinals found success from three-point land in the first, making 53.8% (7-13) of their shots from behind the arc. UIW shot 48% (12-25) overall from the field and 75% (3-4) from the free throw line.
The Bobcats shot a better percentage in the first, making 53.6% of their shots from the field, but were less aggressive from range and drawing fouls, shooting 33% (2-6) on three-pointers and going 0-2 as a team from the line.
UIW's sophomore guard Keaston Willis led all scorers in the first half with nine points (3-5 three-pointers). Following Willis was sophomore forward Marcus Larsson (3-3) and senior guard Des Balentine (2-2, 1-1 three-pointers) each with six points. Larsson also had four rebounds, two assists and a block in the opening half.
Leading Texas State was junior guard Mason Harrell with six points (3-4), followed by graduate guard Marlin Davis (2-5, 1-3 three-pointers) and Asberry (2-2, 1-1 three-pointers) with five, respectively. Senior forward Isiah Small finished the first half with five rebounds and three blocks to go along with four points (2-3)
The second half began much like the first with each team struggling to score. Small broke the deadlock with his only made three-pointer of the day to bring the Bobcats ahead 35-34.
With 15:24 on the clock, the game was tied at 39-39 before a layup by junior forward Nighael Ceaser would take the lead for Texas State. The Bobcats would increase their lead by as much as five before the Cardinals scored six straight to take the lead once more at 47-46.
Less than a minute later, senior guard Shelby Adams made a three to retake the lead for Texas State. The Bobcats would lead for the rest of the game.
The closing part of the game saw Texas State effectively defend inside shots and capitalize off fast breaks. The Bobcats' lead would grow to seven at one point before settling at six to win the game 72-64.
Johnson says the game was a closer affair than he hoped and the nerves were evident on the court, but the team eventually calmed down and played at the level he expects.
“[The goal of the season is] to get through the [season] ulcer free,” Johnson said. “Just to not worry, to control the controllables and also get us to the point where we enjoy playing the game. It’s a game for a reason. We struggled with that today, I thought we did a little too much clock-watching, but we gotta get our guys to where they’re enjoying and embracing the highs and the lows, the game within the game.”
For the game, Texas State shot 48.3% (28-58) from the field, 40% (6-15) from three and 62.5% from the line.
After only scoring two points in the first half, Adams finished with a team-high 15 (6-10, 2-3 three-pointers) in addition to five rebounds.
Johnson says he knows not every player can play excellent every game and that players like former guard Nijal Pearson are no longer available to shoulder the scoring burden. He says the team needs one player to step up and carry the load each game.
“I was really just hoping to see someone step up,” said Johnson. “Didn’t know who it was gonna be, you don’t know how [it's] gonna go [without someone like Pearson]. [Adams] works extremely hard. I’m certainly happy, and he deserves everything that comes his way.”
Adams credits his teammates and his own increased willingness to take open shots for his second-half success.
“[I was] just finding my spots, and that’s getting downhill, getting a wide-open three look,” Adams said. “I feel like Mason [Harrell] and Marlin [Davis] did a great job of finding me too... with the dribble-drive or penetrating and kicking out to the corner, something like that.”
Following Adams was Davis with 12 points (4-10, 2-5 three-pointers), Harrell with 10 points (4-8), and junior forward Alonzo Sule (3-7) and Small (3-6, 1-4 three-pointers) with eight, respectively. Small also finished with 10 rebounds and four blocks.
Small stayed in front of defenders and altered shots throughout the game. Johnson knew Small’s length would be an important piece of the puzzle going into the game.
“Watching film, we knew one thing about this team, that they had really, really good guards but they didn’t have incredible length,” Johnson said.
Davis led the Bobcats with seven assists, followed by Harrell with five.
UIW finished shooting 42.9% (24-56) from the field, 37.5% (9-24) from three and made 70% (7-10) of its free throws.
Willis led the Cardinals in scoring with 16 (6-20, 3-9 three-pointers), followed by Larsson with 14 (6-7) and Balentine with 11 (4-6. 1-1 three-pointers).
Larsson, measuring 6’11”, led UIW in rebounding with 10 rebounds, all of them defensive, to go with two blocks.
Texas State’s next game will be away against the No. 17 ranked University of Texas at 7 p.m. on Dec. 9 at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas. The game will be streamed on ESPN+.