LEVELLAND — Over the past 14 days, the South Plains College men's basketball team was daunted with a five-game stretch that would undoubtedly prove to be a turning point that would shape the season in some fashion.
Arguably the toughest stint any team has faced across the country to date playing four consecutive league games on the road, the Texans found a way to overcome another obstacle Thursday night, this time in the form of No. 10 Clarendon College as they outlasted the Bulldogs 84-79 at the Texan Dome to grab a share of the conference lead in the WJCAC with five games remaining in the regular season.
"I thought we played our hearts out," South Plains head coach Steve Green said. "We didn't play a perfect game and had a couple of silly fouls that you can't make in a game like this when you only have eight players. But, we found a way to persevere, and we made plays when we had to make them tonight."
Trailing at the half for the fourth time in the last five outings, South Plains (17-6, 9-2) once again answered back in the second half as they erased a 37-32 deficit to take a 50-49 lead with 13:14 to play on a pair of free throws from Bernard Kouma. Following a jumper from Clarendon's Donchevell Nugent to bring the score to 55-54, South Plains opened its lead to four, 58-54 on a 3-ball from Rivaldo Soares with 10:02 to go.
Jevonnie Scott would then give the Texans their largest lead of the game as the 6-7 freshman from Toronto knocked down a triple from the top of the key to put the Texans up 61-54 with 9:09 to play. Leading 65-59 with just under seven minutes left, Clarendon (21-3, 9-2) went on a 6-0 run and would tie the game at 65 all on a 3 from Nugent with 5:35 remaining. South Plains punched back yet again as Scott and Paul Person connected on back-to-back 3s as the Texans retook the lead 71-65 with 4:26 to go.
"I'm tickled to death with these guys," Green said. "At halftime, I wasn't real happy and I made a decision to not come into the locker room and say 'hey, we're alright.' We got after them and the last thing I told them was Freddie was going to bail us out in the second half. We've known all year long the greatest talent we have is our length, and it got them a little rattled and they missed some early. They're a very good shooting team and play very free, and we did what we had to do to win."
Clarendon wouldn't go quietly in the final minutes as they trimmed the deficit to three, 75-72 on a 3 from Russell Harrison with 1:35 left. In need of another quality possession to ice the game, Person would put a dagger in the Bulldogs with a 3 from the top of the circle, his sixth of the game to put South Plains up 78-72 with under a minute to go.
"What can you say about Paul – I thought he made every open shot," Green said. "Rivaldo was able to get loose for a couple of shots and I thought Bernard and Freddie were very important because they rolled to the basket and that's a lot of girth going down there. Jevonnie hit a critical 3 for us, and they all made plays we had to have."
Person finished with a career-high 33 points, seven assists and five rebounds as the 6-foot guard from the Bronx bucketed 10 of 18 shots and was 6 of 10 from distance over 40 minutes. Soares tallied 15 points, eight boards and a pair of assists, netting 3 of 9 shots and was 3 of 4 from the 3-point line.
Kouma chipped in 13 points and snagged eight rebounds coming off the bench for the Texans while Freddie De La Cruz recorded his third consecutive double-double, totaling 10 points and 10 rebounds, six on the offensive end in 26 minutes of action.
South Plains shot a 41.4 percent clip from the floor and a 44.4 percent (12-27) mark from the 3-point line. The Texans made the most of their opportunities at the charity stripe, knocking down 24 of 27 which proved to be a critical aspect down the stretch. Clarendon shot 41.4 percent from the floor and 34.3 percent from distance but shot just 60 percent (9-15) from the free throw line.
Nugent led the Bulldogs with 23 points off the bench, dropping in 8 of 15 shots and was 3 of 10 from the perimeter over 18 minutes. Dimitar Pandev poured in 13 points on 6 of 9 shooting while Russell Harrison had 10 points and three boards.