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Men's College Basketball: Win over UT Arlington fueled by redemption

ISHMAEL JOHNSON
Sports Editor

Saturday couldn’t erase the past, but it still felt sweet.

Texas State remembers surrendering what was at one point 10-point lead to the Mavericks during the Sun Belt tournament. Players like senior guard Ojai Black remember cramping up during the final minutes after playing a full game just the night before. And they all remember the Mavericks dancing in the locker room post-game after eliminating the Bobcats. When Texas State took the court Saturday afternoon, every returning player probably had something stuck in the back of their mind from the last time they met up against UT Arlington, but senior guard Bobby Conley’s memory was at the forefront.

Conley had the assignment of chasing UTA’s sharpshooting guard Drew Charles around the court back in March. Charles sank six 3-pointers against Texas State and most of which were with Conley’s hand pressed sternly in front of the Azle native's face. Conley took blame for the team’s tournament elimination.

“I had Charles’ number because last year in the conference game we pretty much lost that game because of me because Drew just lit me up,’ Conley said following Saturday’s 81-73 win over UT Arlington. “I had his number and had to make sure he didn’t get off at all. I was on him all night.”

With Conley pinned to his hip the majority of this past Saturday, Charles had a rare off night scoring only four points and going 1-for-5 from 3-point range after shooting 47 percent from beyond the arc heading into the contest.

With Black guarding senior guard Erick Neal well enough to force eight turnovers, UTA’s offense wasn’t as fluid and Charles wasn’t able to find his usual quality looks from 3 as easily as he does.

“Charles is a good player,” Kaspar said. “He’s someone that needs a guy like Erick Neal to penetrate and kick to him. He’s an unbelievable shooter, but he’s a guy that gets help from others to get open shots. Bobby did a good job.”

Kaspar acknowledged that the win over UT Arlington was one of the biggest the team has had since he took over at Texas State in 2013. He cites last season’s do-or-die win on the road against Arkansas State as his personal highlight, but beating the No. 2 mid-major team in the country certainly stacks up there.

“We were so locked in you don’t even know,” senior Kavin Gilder-Tilbury said after his 13th double-digit scoring total of the season.

In addition to the team’s senior contributions, Saturday involved Texas State’s freshman foursome playing on a big stage. Nijal Pearson poured in 14 points and converted 8-of-10 from the free throw line with forward Maxwell Starwood adding four points and three boards in 12 minutes. Nedeljko Priojovic grabbed four more boards a block and, at times, drew the defensive assignment of UTA’s Preseason Sun Belt Player of the Year, Kevin Hervey. Marlin Davis hasn’t played less than 10 minutes in the backup point guard spot since December 17 against Tulsa allowing Black to get ample rest.

“I’m not surprised because I see it in practice, how hard they work,” Conley said. “Max is just waiting on his moment. He finally got his call and he was ready for it.”

Texas State has its first conference road test this Saturday at South Alabama.

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