No. 5 Midwestern State 64, A&M-Commerce 52
Location: Allen Event Center * Allen, Texas
Records: A&M-Commerce (10-17); Midwestern State (24-3)
ALLEN, Texas – For the first half of its Lone Star Conference quarterfinal, A&M-Commerce had fifth-ranked Midwestern State right where they wanted them, facing a seven-point deficit at the half. But hot shooting by the Mustangs in the second half proved to be too much as the Lions' upset bid comes up short with a 64-52 defeat at the Allen Event Center.
"Coming in, our game plan was to control the tempo of the game and keep it low scoring," said head coach Sam Walker. "We knew that if this game turned into an up-and-down, run-and-shoot, it would favor them, and they just made big shots when it counted. I'm extremely proud of this team for what has been a roller coaster season. Through all the adversity and injuries and tribulations this team had to battle through, they never once flinched and never once lost focus. It has been an honor to coach this team this year and I hope they realize what an incredible season it has been."
Playing the final game of his A&M-Commerce career, Brad Hambrick did everything he could to help will the Lions to victory, finishing with 18 points while playing his fifth-straight complete game. Quince Jackson played a key role for the Lions as well, matching his career-best with 12 points off the bench with five rebounds while Preston Whitley added 10 points and six boards for the Lions.
Esteban Arriola finished with seven points and seven rebounds for A&M-Commerce. A major factor on the night was Desmond King being held to just two points on 0-of-13 shooting, although King did pull down a team-best 10 rebounds.
A&M-Commerce came into the conference tournament as the league's hottest team, having to win its final three games of the season just to qualify for the postseason. The high level of play continued into the first half as the Lions controlled momentum early, playing tough defense while hitting key shots when it counted.
With the game tied at 19-19 with just over three minutes remaining in the half, the Lions began to make their surge, outscoring the Mustangs 7-0 to close out the half, taking a 26-19 lead into intermission. They held the lead despite shooting just 28 percent from the floor (7-of-25) while hitting just one of their five three-point attempts.
The Lions maintained their seven-point advantage through the early part of the second half, holding a 34-27 lead with 12:35 remaining in the contest. But Midwestern State began to make its surge, hitting a handful of three pointers well beyond the arc to spark a 21-7 run that covered just over three minutes, taking a commanding 48-41 lead with 8:41 remaining.
A&M-Commerce continued to fight as a three from Hambrick cut the deficit to four at 48-44, but that would be as close as the Lions would get as the Mustangs used a 10-3 run to get on top by double digits at 58-47 before closing out the door on the Lions' dramatic season with the 64-52 victory. The Lions matched their 26-point first half performance, but it was a 45-point second half by Midwestern State that propelled the Mustangs to their third victory of the year over the Lions and their 10 th-straight over A&M-Commerce.
The Lions struggled all night from the floor, hitting just 25.5 percent of their shots (14-of-55) and 27.3 percent of their three-point attempts (3-of-11). A&M-Commerce hit 21-of-33 free throw attempts, but had a handful of crucial misses down the stretch.
The loss closes the door on A&M-Commerce's dramatic end of season run as the Lions had to win their final three games, including a pair on the road, simply to qualify for the Lone Star Conference tournament. For the three Lion seniors (Hambrick, King and LaBree Sledge), it was not the way they wanted their career to end, but coach Walker expressed his appreciation for each of their efforts.
"It hurts right now, but hopefully in a few days they will get a chance to reflect back on the impact they have made on this program," Walker said following the game. "These guys have given it their all, and I couldn't be more proud to stand next to them. Without them, A&M-Commerce's basketball program wouldn't be where it is today, and it has been an honor to coach these young men."