ABILENE — The South Plains College men's basketball team will get an opportunity to defend its region title and clinch an automatic berth to the NJCAA Men's Basketball National Tournament after defeating Western Texas College 76-52 on Friday at Moody Coliseum.
South Plains will matchup with No. 6 Clarendon College in a rubber match between the two programs at 2 p.m. on Saturday. The Texans and Bulldogs split the regular-season series in conference play, each winning on their home court.
South Plains could do no wrong in the first half, shooting over 58 percent from the floor with freshman Rivaldo Soares scoring 17 of his game-high 22 points in the first 20 minutes. The Texans were just as lethal on the defensive end, forcing the Westerners to shoot just 28 percent from the floor in the first half.
"We hit some shots early and got off to a good start," South Plains head coach Steve Green said. "I thought defensively our length bothered them a lot and a lot of their shots were short. We were able to hold them to one shot for the majority of the game and Freddie had almost 20 rebounds in the first half."
The Texans continued to have their way on both ends of the floor in the final 20 minutes, shooting 48 percent from the hardwood with Jevonnie Scott chipping in nine points and four boards in the back half. Bernard Kouma provided six points and four rebounds coming off the bench in the final stint while Western Texas shot just 32 percent down the stretch and were 4 of 17 from 3 in the second half.
"Bernard is big and he gets in the lane and it disappears," Green said. "The first time down the floor we threw the ball right there and they had to foul him, then he goes down and takes a charge at the other end. He made some good plays for us today."
South Plains controlled the interior of over the course of the game as they won the battle on the glass 43-24 and scored 30 points inside the paint. The Texans would force 12 turnovers in the contest resulting in 14 points on the offensive end and received 17 points from their bench.
Freshman Benjamin Bayela poured in 12 points on 4 of 10 shooting while De La Cruz tallied 10 points and a game-high 20 rebounds over 29 minutes. Kouma finished with a season-high 12 points and seven rebounds while Junior Farquhar had six points and four assists.
"Clarendon is every bit as big as we are and we have to go back and look at the last two games we've played against them and see if there's anything they don't do well – I haven't found it yet," Green said. "We have to try and slow them down and not let them go on runs which is something they're really good at."