HUTCHINSON, Kan.—The South Plains College Texans fell to the Eastern Florida State Titans 77-65 in the semifinals of the 2017 NJCAA National Tournament on Friday night at the Hutchinson Sports Arena.
The Titans entered the contest as one of the top defensive teams in the country, ranking first in the NJCAA in opposing field goal percentage with a 36 percent mark on the year. The Titans also ranked 10th in the nation in opponents' 3-point percentage, forcing teams to shoot just 29.3 percent this season.
Despite averaging nearly 96 points per game, the Texans were unable to find their rhythm on the offensive end and shot a season low 27 percent from the field and 20 percent from the 3-point line. South Plains nearly matched the Titans' defensive fortitude as they held Eastern Florida State to a 38 percent shooting mark from the floor and 35 percent from behind the arc.
"I thought they were extremely aggressive, I thought they got after our guards and made it a miserable evening for them," South Plains head coach Steve Green said. "In my opinion, we were not up to the challenge that they presented us. We settled too early on some easy shots instead of being more disciplined when shots weren't falling, and we didn't test the inside of their defense at all."
Trailing 33-30 at the midway point, South Plains took its first lead since the 17:55 mark of the first half on a pair of free throws from Roberto Gallinat to go up 46-45 with 11:46 remaining. The Titans would retake a 52-49 lead on a Shaq Carter layup with 9:20 left. Following two free throws from Jordan Brangers which brought the score to 52-51, Eastern Florida State used a 9-2 run to take a 61-53 lead with 5:59 to play.
Brangers brought the Texans back within four with a 3-ball with 4:04 left to make it 64-60. The Titans(31-5) answered with a 6-0 run with 2:26 remaining to extend their lead to 70-60. Grantham Gillard brought the Texans back within seven with a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 1:44 to play, but it wouldn't be enough as the Titans controlled the clock and sunk seven of nine free throws down the stretch to escape with the win.
"South Plains is an unbelievably talented ball club," Eastern Florida State head coach Jeremy Shulman said. "Coach Green does a great job, and they were No. 1 in the country for 16 straight weeks for a reason. I thought we executed multiple different defenses tonight pretty well."
Brangers led the Texans with 18 points on 6-of-17 shooting from the floor over 29 minutes. Jahlil Tripp and Gillard each finished with 11 points for the Texans while Gallinat chipped in nine and Montell McRae had eight. Eastern Florida State's Kareem Brewton scored a game-high 26 points while Austin Awad had 15 and Carter finished with 13 points and nine boards.
South Plains(31-2) will wrap up the season when they take on Northwest Florida State(29-4) at 5 p.m. on Saturday in the third place game.