Lions take down ASU, clinch final LSC berth
It was a night for a much-needed win for the men's basketball team of Texas A&M University-Commerce. The Lions hosted Angelo State for the final home game of the regular season at The Field House on Saturday, and clinched the eighth and final spot in the LSC championship tournament with an 83-78 victory.
The A&M-Commerce seniors were recognized prior to tipoff as Brad Hambrick, Esteban Arriola, LaBree Sledge, and Desmond King were all appearing at home for the last time.
A&M-Commerce opened the game with an early seven-point margin with sophomore guard Devondrick Walker scoring seven of the Lions first nine points in the game. As the half went on, the Lions were able to set the tempo and dominated from an offensive standpoint.
The Lions had an eight-point advantage shooting 10-of-19 from the field with seven and a half minutes remaining in the first half.
Angelo State couldn't respond immediately as A&M-Commerce reached a 15-point lead with four minutes left in the first half. With just over two minutes remaining, the Lions had a 20-point lead, the largest deficit of the half, with help from King and Walker. The Lions ended the half with a 19-point advantage with Walker leading the way with 15 points shooting 4-of-6 from the field. King and Preston Whitley both cashed in 12 points.
Angelo State started off the second on the right foot. They went on a 10-4 run in the opening minutes of the second half and with 15:21 remaining, the Rams had cut the margin to 13.
As time went on in the second half, it seemed that the Rams were doing just enough to slowly put things together and make a second half comeback. The Lions had difficulty defending the three-point shot throughout the entire game.
After A&M-Commerce gaining its largest lead by 21 points in opening seconds of the second half, it was a shock to the crowd when the Rams were able to cut the margin down to four points. The crowd was on their feet and the players picked up the intensity until the game was down to the final seconds. With a four-point advantage and less than three minutes to go, A&M-Commerce had key baskets from Walker and King to put a lid on the game.
Hambrick ended the game with a few free throws that put the Rams away and gave the Lions a five-point advantage to get the win that they were desperately hoping for to clinch the last seed in the conference.
The Lions finished shooting 23-of-47 (49 percent) in the game led by Walker with 24 points. King had 22, Quince Jackson cashed in 12 points and Preston Whitley added 14 points. The Rams finished shooting 45 percent led by forward LaDonn Huckaby who dropped 39 points shooting 7-of-13 from long range. Javae King-Gilchrist dumped in 11 points while having eight rebounds, and Lenox finished with 12 points.
"It was a great win for our seniors tonight. Down the stretch they kept their minds right and came together," Lions coach Sam Walker said. "I'm happy for my seniors; King and Hambrick have been the pillars of this program since they arrived here in Commerce. Not only are they outstanding athletes, but outstanding people as well and I enjoy watching them grow physically and mentally."
For King, the win was a culmination of all the things he set out to do during his senior season.
"I thank God for the blessings and opportunities I've overcame this season. We came together as a group and fought for [LaBree] Sledge and we'll be doing the same thing in the tournament," King said. "Tonight means just more than a win to me, it means an achievement, something we've worked for. It's been an amazing two years here at this university and I've enjoyed every moment of being with the team and Coach Walker."
With the Lions advancing to 10-16 overall and 5-13 in conference play, they will play in the Lone Star Conference tournament that will begin Wednesday, Feb. 29 in Allen.
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