Strong effort not enough for Texas Southern
GARLAND, Texas (AP)
Omar Strong kept making 3-pointers, right until the very end for Texas Southern.
The Tigers ran out of time while trying to make a huge comeback in the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament championship game.
Brent Arrington hit a key 3-pointer for Mississippi Valley State in the final minute, and the Delta Devils held on for a 71-69 victory Saturday night to clinch the league's automatic NCAA tournament berth.
''We dug a good hole for ourselves. ... I don't know if it was anxiety, nervousness or just really couldn't get in a rhythm,'' coach Tony Harvey said. ''A game of this magnitude, we didn't perform like we were capable, but we didn't quit fighting. Our team shows some character.''
Mississippi Valley (21-12) led throughout and was up by 20 points with 8 minutes to go. But Strong hit six of his eight 3-pointers after that, including one at the buzzer.
MVSU led 55-35 when William Pugh made a 3-pointer, but the Delta Devils weren't safe yet. Strong's surge pushed the Tigers (15-18) down the stretch.
''I was just hot, that's all it was,'' said Strong, who finished with 30 pointers on 8-of-15 3s and six free throws.
Dexter Ellington had 10 points for Texas Southern, while Aaron Clayborn grabbed 10 rebounds.
After going 17-1 in the SWAC and sweeping through the conference tournament, the Delta Devils are going to the NCAA tournament for the fifth time. It will be their first trip since 2008.
Kevin Burwell had 19 points to lead MVSU, while Arrington had 12 and Pugh 10.
''We were just trying to hold on,'' Valley coach Sean Woods said. ''This team has persevered through so much. We go through November and December with only seven guys. We played with that lineup before against the likes of North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida.''
Arrington hit his 3 from the right corner in front of his teammates on the MVSU bench with 21 seconds left for a 70-64 lead. Arrington pumped his fist furiously while going back down the court.
Ellington and Strong both then missed 3-pointers, with Ellington grabbing Strong's miss and scoring on a short putback basket with 5 seconds left. Cor-J Cox was immediately fouled and made his first free throw, and Strong hit his last 3-pointer.
After 17 turnovers in the first half, Texas Southern then shot an astounding 64 percent overall (16 of 25) and on 3-pointers (9 of 14) while scoring 52 points - triple their first-half total - after halftime.
''They made a good run, but the run was too late,'' said Woods, who once briefly worked for Harvey.
''We all know good teams make runs, we knew they were going to make a run,'' forward Paul Crosby said. ''We just had to play solid good defense, which we did for the last five minutes. We stuck it out.''
After the Tigers missed the first shot of the game, Burwell had a rebound and turned that into a breakaway layup. Burwell had another layup in an opening 10-3 run.