HUTCHINSON, Kan. - The Vincennes University Men's Basketball Team's quest for the school's fourth NJCAA Div. I Men's Basketball National Championship came to an end Tuesday night when the Trailblazers dropped an 80-68 decision to South Plains in the second round of the NJCAA National Championship Tournament in Hutchinson, KS.
The ninth-seeded Trailblazers (33-2) ran into No. 8 seed South Plains' Andre Spight and the 6-3 sophomore's first half shooting rampage led an 8-for-17 3-point shooting barrage and accounted for 22 of the Texans' 45 points in the opening 20 minutes. VU - despite falling behind by 15 late in the first half - scrambled to keep the game within striking distance and even tied up in the second half, but South Plains (27-6) fought off each Trailblazer rally to post the victory.
Sophomore guard Everett Clemons scored 15 points and dished out eight assists before fouling out late in the game. He paced a balanced VU scoring attack that also included 13 points by sophomore forward A.J. Patty, 12 points by sophomore forward Mychal Mulder and 11 each by sophomore guard Donte' McGill and freshman forward Keith Mack. South Plains also got 20 points from 6-8 sophomore forward Emmanuel Omogbo.
VU, which defeated 24th seed Cochise, 90-60, in a first round game on Monday, missed capitalizing on some opportunities to wrest the victory away from the Texans. But South Plains' shooting and key offensive rebounds (despite outrebounding VU by only 1, 42-41, for the game) were the saving grace for South Plains.
South Plains shot 48.1 percent (26-for-54) and 11-for-22 from 3-point range. The Texans were also 17-for-21 at the free throw line. VU was 28-for-78 (35.9 percent) and hit only 3-of-12 treys and 9-of-15 free throws.
"He shot it phenomenally," VU Coach Todd Franklin said of Spight and the way he performed offensively but also seemed to get his teammates inspired to grab most loose balls and contested rebounds. "(South Plains) shot it amazingly well. We got right there and had a few chances to get by them but there were a couple of loose balls we didn't get to and they just seemed to push us back every time we made a run at them.
"They're a pretty good team," he added, "especially when they shoot the ball like that. We were kind of rocked by the first hard punch and rallied back, but just couldn't get over the top."
After trailing 42-27 at one juncture, the Trailblazers engineered a comeback that knotted the score at 52-all with about 12:30 to play. However, Spight drained a trey to answer and ignite an 11-1 Texans run. McGill ended the run with a drive and lay-up that made it 63-55 South Plains. A shot time later, McGill hit a 3-pointer of his own to slice the lead again and prompt a South Plains timeout.
McGill scored yet again later on to keep VU within five points at 65-60. When Omogbo missed the front end of a one-and-one, the Trailblazers got the board and had a chance to inch even closer and Clemons eventually scored to make it 65-63 Texans.
The Trailblazers continued to cling to South Plains and trailed 67-64 with 5:30 remaining but the Texans preserved the lead one more time and VU never got that close again as South Plains spread the floor for the closing minutes and made nine free throws in the final 1:55 to finish off the Trailblazers' chances.
The loss capped off a 67-5 two-season career for the 2014-15 VU sophomores. Franklin had high praise for the seven two-year veterans and McGill, who transferred to the program this season from Goldey-Beacom College.
"They've been a pleasure," Franklin said after the game. "They've been unbelievable gentlemen and I've really enjoyed the opportunity to coach them."
South Plains advances to meet the tournament's No. 1 seed, Connors State, on Thursday.