GEORGETOWN, Texas – On senior night, the Southwestern University Pirates men's basketball team made an improbable comeback to defeat the Austin College Kangaroos 80-77 in the last game of the regular season.
Southwestern struggled to find the bottom of the net for most of the game, shooting just 41.3 percent from the field and 3-for-22 (13.6 percent) from deep. The Pirates created a number of open looks in the first half but hit just 11-for-30, including 2-for-14 from the 3-point line.
The missed opportunities appeared to either seep into other aspects of the Pirates' game or embolden the Kangaroos, who shot 48.3 percent in the first half, including 5-for-9 from behind the 3-point line, making Southwestern pay for the slightest inattentiveness on defense.
Kyle Howard and a slew of free-throws kept the Pirates within striking distance in the first half. Howard came off the bench early to hit two quick 3-pointers, sprinting off inbounds passes to retrieve dribble handoffs from Trenton Garrett and burying the shots when the defense went under the screen and finished with nine points in the half.
Jake Holmes scored six points before the break, helping to get the Austin College frontcourt in early foul trouble and shooting 4-for-6 from the free-throw line in the half.
Austin College got 10 first-half points from Justice Mercadel and nine from Devin Roland, combining to hit 7-for-11 form the field. Whatever they earned on offense they mostly gave back on the free-throw line at the other end, sending to the Pirates 15 times, of which Southwestern hit 11.
The story was the same for much of the second half. With Southwestern struggling to hit from deep, Austin College pressed up on the Pirates' playmakers and collapsed inside, blowing up most of the Pirates' favorite actions without fear of repercussions.
Kangaroo point guard Kam Hogan was at the center of much of Austin College's bravado, pressuring the defense and drawing a double technical with taunting. He also scored nine of his 11 points in the second half, hitting a series of floaters while dishing off two assists. His layup with 10:10 remaining in the game gave Austin College its largest lead at 15. A few minutes later, the Kangaroos established a 15-point lead again on a Blake Mattich 3-pointer with 4:52 remaining.
Given the state of the Pirates' offense for most of the game, the lead seemed insurmountable.
The comeback started with a trickle, with Howard making two consecutive layups and Brandon Alexander digging on a Hogan drive, stripping the point guard and drawing a pair of free throws in transition. Whatever frustations the Pirates had on offense they turned on Austin College, contesting every shot.
Then the floodgates opened, with Howard finding Holmes for a layup to cut the deficit to 77-70. A missed Austin College 3-pointer later and Howard found Alexander for an open 3-pointer. A possession later, Ryan Wheeler grabbed a rebound off a Hogan missed layup, with the latter's fiery demeanor turning on him, leading to a frustration foul to pick up his fifth.
Wheeler hit both to bring the Pirates within two, then tied the game driving baseline for a layup off a pass from Joel Martinez. The Pirate defense held once more, with Holmes rebounding a Roland jumper with 35 seconds remaining.
With the shot clock turned off, the Pirates turned to Alexander, letting the clock wind down for the last shot then drawing a foul with three seconds remaining to give the Pirates a two-point lead. Martinez stole the ensuing long inbounds pass and split a pair of free throws to ice the game.
With the win, the Pirates finish the regular season 14-11 and 11-5 in conference play. Southwestern will participate in the SCAC Tournament, which begins on Friday, Feb. 22 and is hosted by Texas Lutheran University in Seguin, Texas.