HUTCHINSON, Kansas — The South Plains College men's basketball team held off a late second half run from Connors State as they bested the Cowboys 80-75 on Thursday night at the Hutchinson Sports Arena to advance to the NJCAA Final Four for the third time in the last four seasons.
South Plains will meet Eastern Florida State (29-4) on Friday at 6 p.m. with the winner advancing to Saturday's national championship game at 7 p.m.
"I thought this game was a tale of two halves," South Plains head coach Steve Green said. "I thought we played well the first half and shot it well and rebounded the ball and held them to one shot, then, completely unraveled in the second half. We were very, very fortunate."
With South Plains leading 50-32 at the midway point, Connors State (31-4) trimmed the Texans' lead to eight on an AJ Cockrell' jumper with 9:49 to go as part of a 22-12 run from the Cowboys. Isaiah Maurice put the Texans (26-8) back up 10 with a layup over a pair of defenders with just under eight minutes to go.
Cockrell would get Connors State within five, 69-64 on a bank shot with 6:24 to go, which was immediately answered by South Plains' Ben Perez who drained a 3-ball from the wing to put the Texans up 72-64. The Cowboys would proceed to go on an 11-4 over the next four minutes to pull within one on a layup from Ra'Shawn Langston with 1:23 left.
Connors State' Mason Jones would come up with a steal on the following possession as Perez fouled him at the rim with 51 seconds to play, sending Jones to the charity for a pair of free throws. Jones would proceed to miss both as Perez snagged the rebound and was immediately fouled by the Cowboy's Roy Darius. Leading 76-75, Perez knocked down both free throws to put the Texans up 78-75 with 25 ticks left.
With one final possession trailing by three, Darius drove to the bucket into a pack of Texans, missing the runner with seven seconds remaining as South Plains' Raymond Doby grabbed the rebound and dished it off to Perez who was fouled with four seconds to go, sending the sophomore from San Diego to the free throw line. Perez would end the Cowboys hopes of a late comeback as he netted both free throws, sending South Plains into the Final Four and one step closer to an opportunity to play for a national crown.
"With the season we've had and what we had to come through, we're extremely proud to get to the Final Four and keep our season alive," said South Plains freshman Keith McGee, who finished with 17 points and two assists. "We had a good first half and picked up some confidence, but we have to play for 40 minutes and finish out these games from here on out."
South Plains shot 47.5 percent from the floor in the contest including a 58.8 percent mark from the field in the first half. The Texans had their way on the glass, outrebounding the Cowboys 38-27 inside. Free throws were at a premium as the Texans made the most of their opportunities at the free throw line, knocking down 16 of 18 attempts from the charity stripe.
Freshman Christopher Orlina led the Texans with 19 points, 17 coming in the front half as he finished 8 of 15 from the field to go along with 13 rebounds and five assists. Deshawn Corprew and Perez each finished with 14 points while Maurice tallied 10 points and six boards.
Langston led all scorers with 27 points on 10 of 16 shooting from the floor as the Cowboys shot 46.8 percent from the field but were just 2 of 13 from the 3-point line. Jones pitched in with 15 points and four boards while Bishop Coulter totaled 13 points and 11 rebounds and Cockrell finished with 12 points and six rebounds.