For 37 minutes, the Howard College men's basketball team were able to hold onto hopes of upsetting the top junior college team in the nation.
In the final three minutes, however, South Plains College showed how it had attained such a lofty ranking.
The top-ranked Texans survived an early Howard blitz, then dominated the closing minutes to take a 72-70 win over the Hawks at Garrett Coliseum Thursday night.
Yanick Moreira scored 20 pints and Marshall Henderson added 18 to lead the Texans, who kept their record spotless at 27-0 overall and 12-0 in Western Junior College Athletic Conference play. Jacob Thomas led all scorers with 27 points and Calvin Godfrey and Shavon Coleman each had 10 points for the Hawks, who fell to 20-6, 9-3 with the loss.
Howard dominated the opening minutes of the game, using their customary fast start to fashion a15-2 lead with 14:35 left until halftime. Thomas led the opening charge, scoring 10 of his points during that opening stretch.
After a time out, however, South Plains settled down and began chipping away at the lead. The Texans' charge was led by by Henderson, who collected three consecutive baskets in a run that cut the Hawks' lead to 17-13 at the 9:38 mark of the first half.
From there, the teams basically exchanged field goals until a pair of three-pointers (one each from Jerry Dixon and Rico Richardson) in the final minute of the first half pushed Howard's lead to 31-22 at intermission.
That lead quickly shrank in the opening minutes of the second half, however. South Plains began pushing the ball inside to Moreira, and the strategy paid immediate dividends — within 3:23 of the final half, the Texans' had cut Howard's lead down to a single point.
From there, the teams exchanged the lead at an almost dizzying rate — neither team led by more than six points for an 11-minute stretch in the half.
In the final three minutes, however, the Texans asserted their dominance, outscoring the Hawks 14-4 in that stretch to take the win.
Howard Assistant Coach Justin Einerson said South Plains' inside advantage was the difference in the game.
“They are one of the best defensive teams in the league. That's why they're ranked as high as they are, and they did a very good job of rebounding in the second half,” Einerson said. “This wasn't one of our best offensive games of the year, that's for sure.”
SPC Head Coach Steve Green, who coached at Howard in the late 1980s and early 1990s, said he took a page from the playbook of his counterpart, HC Coach Mark Adams, in the second half.
“Actually, we ran Mark's offense in the second half, to tell you the truth,” Green said. “We couldn't stop them in the first half, so we said, 'What the heck, let's give it a try.'”
The Hawks return to action Monday vs. New Mexico Junior College in Hobbs, N.M. Game time is 7:45 p.m.
SOUTH PLAINS (72) — Yanick Moreira 9 2-5 20; Devonte Smith 1 3-7 5; Stanton Kidd 2 1-1 5; Marshall Henderson 7 2-2 18; Tymell Murphy 5 3-3 14; Greg Gainey 3 0-0 6; Terrence Durham 1 2-2 4; totals 28 13-21 72.
HOWARD (60) — Jerry Dixon 2 3-4 8; Leon Cooper 1 0-0 2; Rico Richardson 1 0-0 3; Jacob Thomas 9 3-4 27; Calvin Godfrey 4 2-4 10; Shavon Coleman 2 6-6 10; totals 19 14-18 60.
Halftime — Howard 31, South Plains 22; Three-point goals — South Plains 3 (Henderson 2, Murphy), Howard 8 (Dixon, Richardson, Thomas 6); Total fouls — South Plains 19, Howard 20; Fouled out — Kidd; Technical — Moreira.