WOLFFORTH — The objective was clear: Win, and you're in.
Staring down conference foe Odessa College in the Region V title game for a spot in the 2018 NJCAA Men's Basketball National Tournament, the Texans never flinched, overcoming a 12-1 deficit in the opening minutes to down the seventh-ranked Wranglers 101-92 and capture the 2018 Region V crown Saturday at the Tiger Pit on the campus of Frenship High School.
"This is a great feeling because we've known all year long we had the potential to do this, and we finally put it all together," said South Plains head coach Steve Green, who won his sixth regional title with the Texans on Saturday. "I think the benefit of playing a tough schedule paid off for us. We got down today and there wasn't any quit in these guys and they deserve it, and I'm happy they will get a taste of the national tournament."
Following a 12-1 run from Odessa ceased by a Braxton Shaw' jumper with 15:00 minutes to play in the first half, South Plains swung back with a 9-0 run capped by a 3-pointer from Deshawn Corprew which brought the Texans (23-8) within two, 12-10. Freshman Keith McGee would give South Plains its first lead of the contest at the 11:47 mark in the front half with a triple from the corner to put the Texans up 17-14.
Odessa (28-4) responded over the next four minutes, utilizing an 11-3 run to retake the lead 25-20 on a Jermaine Haley' jumper with 9:10 remaining before the break. South Plains answered with a 6-1 run to tie the game at 26 all thanks to a 3-ball from William Washington with just over seven minutes left in the opening half. Freshman Christopher Orlina put the Texans back on top with a trey from the top of the key, giving South Plains a 38-36 advantage. The Texans would go on to take a 42-21 lead into the break as they shot 45 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes and knocked down six 3s.
"We've played with more pace the last three games, and it seems like we're shooting the ball well," Green said. "When you score points it makes up for a multitude of sins, and at times we had a hard time stopping them. You have to give Odessa credit because every time we would push the lead to six or eight, they found a way to come back."
Trading buckets to begin the final stint, Keandre Cook put the Wranglers on top 48-47 with a jumper from 15-feet with 18:10 left. With both sides deadlocked at 53 apiece, South Plains' Jordan Brangers connected on a triple from the top of the key with 15:28 to play as South Plains retook the lead, 56-53. Corprew would then barrel his way through traffic with under 14 minutes remaining, converting at the rim to extend South Plains' lead to 63-56.
"We've worked hard to get to this moment, and we had some ups and downs this season, but we finally got into a rhythm and are starting to play our best basketball," Corprew said. "We're starting to trust each other and play our game, and I like our chances in Hutch. We lost to these guys twice this season, and there was no way we were going to let them get us again."
Trailing 70-61 following a jumper from Isaiah Maurice, Odessa strung together an 8-2 run to get within three, 72-69 on a Jonathan Maxwell' layup with 9:42 left. South Plains answered yet again as Maurice pushed the lead to eight with a turnaround jumper with 5:27 to play. Odessa would get back within six on a pair of JJ Simpson' free throws with just over two minutes remaining, but it was immediately answered with a 3-ball from Maurice as the Texans went back up nine before closing out the final minutes to claim their spot in the most illustrious tournament in junior college athletics.
"We had our ups and downs throughout the season, but when you get in a situation like this, it really shows what our team is made of," Maurice said. "Everyone on this team has contributed at some point to help us win, and we have to continue that at the national tournament. I always believed we could get to this point, and we locked in for these last three games and stuck with each other."
Corprew led South Plains with 26 points to go along with eight rebounds and four assists over 30 minutes. Maurice tallied 24 points and 13 boards, knocking down 10 of his 17 attempts from the field. Orlina netted 15 points and 10 rebounds while McGee chipped in 13 points and Brangers finished with 11.
With their spot locked in, South Plains will await selection Monday when the NJCAA announces the 24-team bracket on March 12. The 2018 NJCAA Men's Basketball National Tournament runs March 19-24 at the Hutchinson Sports Arena in Hutchinson, Kansas.