Texas-Arlington edges Northwestern State in Southland final
Katy, TX (Sports Network) - Anthony Vereen poured in 25 points and pulled down nine rebounds to lead the Texas-Arlington Mavericks to their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance, earning the Southland Conference's automatic bid with an 82-79 edge over the Northwestern State Demons in the championship matchup.
Rog'er Guignard gave 17 points for the seventh-seeded Mavericks (21-11), who also set a program record with 21 wins so far this season. Their campaign continues despite posting a losing record during regular-season conference play, finishing at 7-9 against Southland foes.
Rod Epps finished with 12 points and Larry Posey chipped in with 11 for UT- Arlington, which dropped five of its last seven outings leading up to the tourney, but upset second-seeded Lamar in the quarterfinal round before beating third-seeded Sam Houston State, 72-66, in Friday's semifinals.
As the Southland champs, the Mavs were awarded the 16th seed in the South region of the NCAA Tournament, and will battle the No. 1 seed, Memphis, on Friday in North Little Rock, AR.
Trey Gilder tallied 20 points while reeling in eight rebounds and swatting three shots for the Demons (15-18), who made it to their fourth straight Southland Conference title tilt. Two years ago, the Demons won this event and went on to beat Iowa in the first round of the NCAA tourney. This year, though, they came up just a few points short.
Gerrell Thomas totaled 14 points and seven boards, and Damon Jones donated 10 points for Northwestern State, which overcame a poor non-conference showing in the regular season to go 9-7 in the Southland and earn the fifth seed for the tourney. After putting the brakes on a three-game skid with a one-point win over Central Arkansas in their regular-season finale, the Demons rolled into the tourney by delivering a 20-point thrashing to fourth-seeded Southeastern Louisiana in the quarterfinals and then knocking off top-seeded Stephen F. Austin, 69-66, in the semifinals.
Earlier this season, the Demons beat the Mavericks by an 86-82 final, but UTA avenged the loss and now owns a 26-21 advantage in the all-time series.
After the intermission, the Mavs turned a one-point deficit into an eight- point advantage when they fired off a 14-5 flurry. Vereen and Posey each provided four points, and Jermaine Griffin knocked down a foul a shot that left Texas-Arlington ahead, 62-54, with 12:34 to go.
Northwestern State found itself down by nine with just over eight minutes to play when the Demons used a 16-8 barrage to trim the margin to just one point. Colby Bargeman netted seven shots from the charity stripe during the scoring sterak, the last three of which put the Demons right on the Mavericks' heels, 78-77, with 2:22 to play.
Each squad went 0-for-2 from the field thereafter, while Northwestern State added a pair of missed free throws, before Vereen connected on two from the line to extend the UTA advantage to three points, 80-77, at the one-minute mark.
The Demons took a timeout and drew up a play for Bargeman, who nailed a layup with 51 seconds remaining to make it an 80-79 affair. Following a Vereen miss with 30 seconds left, Northwestern State had a chance to take the lead, but Bargeman threw the ball away when he tried to squeeze a pass from the top of the key through the lane to Thomas, who was stationed underneath the defense in the low post, looking for an easy lay-in.
After the turnover, the Demons were forced to foul, putting Vereen on the line with 11 seconds to go. The big forward hit both, as the Mavs earned an 82-79 edge.
Northwestern State had an opportunity to send the game to overtime, but Gilder's long three-pointer was off the mark, and UT-Arlington cleaned up the board.
Trailing by three in the opening minutes, the Mavericks ripped off a 17-5 run to take control of the contest. Trey Parker highlighted the surge with six points and two rebounds, both on the offensive end, and his slam just past the nine-minute mark made it a 28-19 cushion.
On the ensuing Northwestern State possession, Keithan Hancock buried a bucket from beyond the arc that began a 10-0 burst. The Demons regained the lead, 29-28, when Dominic Knight drained a jumper with 5:32 remaining.
The teams then traded blows, and Guignard broke open a deadlock with a three- pointer that put UT-Arlington on top, 42-39, with 1:17 to play. Northwestern State answered with a pair of Gilder free throws to close the gap to 42-41 with 23 seconds on the clock, and both squads failed to capitalize on opportunities to alter the margin before the break.
Bargeman finished with nine points, 11 boards and two blocks for the Demons...Despite the loss, Northwestern State outrebounded UTA, 43-35, and converted 10-of-24 three-pointers (41.7 percent), compared to just 6-of-19 (31.6 percent) for the Mavs.
03/16 18:45:24 ET
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