Up by five points with two minutes left, against a stout opponent and plenty of apparent voodoo working the other way, the No. 8 UTPB men’s basketball team needed to play sound, to execute and to toe the line just right to escape with a win Thursday night, and to end a year-long jinx.
The Falcons did that, taking all the right steps down the stretch to survive 95-88 and pluck the thorn from their sides in Cameron, which has had UTPB vexed and hexed for a season and more.
Cameron was the only team to beat UTPB twice last season, and the visiting Aggies led the Falcons 50-45 at halftime on Thursday, but UTPB powered its way back, pushed out front, and executed down the stretch to get to 11-1 on the season and remain undefeated in Lone Star Conference play.
“They just have our number,” UTPB head coach Andy Newman said with a smile after the win, mentioning a curse now off his players’ backs. “It was good to get that thing lifted.”
Last season, a Cameron team that finished 17-12 handed UTPB two of its only six losses through a 26-6 campaign. Thursday night, Cameron entered the contest 5-8 and UTPB 10-1 — but records were never reflected on the floor as Cameron knocked down 63.6 percent of its 3-pointers in the first half and charged into the halftime break with a five-point lead.
UTPB pushed right back, showing its growth as forward Josh Morris scored 16 second-half points, guard Daeshon Francis added 12 second-half points, and guard Sammy Allen recorded a double-double in the final 20 minutes alone, with 11 points and 10 rebounds after the break.
All of those seniors, and plenty other fellow Falcons returners, entered Thursday night with last season’s two losses to Cameron fresh on the mind.
“I would’ve been sick if I lost to them again,” Morris said, after letting out a sigh. “They’re a really good team, but we needed to get that win.”
Francis finished with a game-high 24 points total, while Morris and guard James McPherson totaled 20 and Allen finished with 15 points and 17 rebounds.
Cameron scored in the opening moments of the second half to make it a seven-point game, but that’s when UTPB made its big push, stringing together a 10-0 run to take the lead.
Morris converted a 3-point play to start the run, then scored on an assist from McPherson, before McPherson knocked down a 3-pointer, and then Morris cleaned up another 3-point attempt with an inside put-back to put UTPB up 55-52 with 17:10 to go.
Minutes later, UTPB pushed its lead up to six on a powerful slam by Morris, which helped put the Falcons up by as many as nine at several points with less than 10 minutes to go.
Of course, the Aggies, who’ve seemed to have handfuls of UTPB’s “kryptonite” in stow over the last year, made their own late push, but UTPB secured inbound passes, broke through halfcourt traps and knocked down free throws in the waning moments to win.
“We kept the lead,” Allen said. “They’re a really good team, that never quit, and they’re always fighting us. I feel like, what we did right was, as seniors, we played like seniors at the end of the game, and we kept the lead and we knocked down free throws.”
Cameron sank seven of 11 3-pointers in the first half, though its shooting efficiency leveled out in the second half. The Aggies finished hitting 11 of 27 from beyond the arc in the game.
UTPB hit with an efficient 50.8-percent in its home gym.
McPherson’s 14 first-half points helped keep the Falcons on Cameron’s heels, then Morris and Allen made their presences felt in the second half. Francis, the reigning conference player of the year, scored 12 and 12 in two halves.
“He had the quietest 24 I’ve ever seen,” Newman noted.
Conversely, the coach agreed, Morris had a “loud 20” — with his play in that 10-0 run to start the second half and a rocking dunk midway through the period electrifying a big crowd in the Falcon Dome supporting a hometown team ranked in the top 10 in the NABC’s Division II national poll.
“Right. It was a loud 20,” he said. “When we really needed a bucket, we went right inside to him and he got it done.”
UTPB continues conference action Saturday, hosting Midwestern State (4-10, 1-4) on its home floor.
CAMERON (5-9 overall, 1-4 Lone Star Conference)
Tyler Williams 5-13 2-4 15, Johann Tate 5-10 1-3 15, Delano Jones 3-6 6-8 13, JV Long 4-7 4-4 12, Chris Royal 4-7 1-2 9, Jalen Nicholas 2-3 3-4 8, Zach Dumas 2-4 2-2 7, Tyus Momoh 1-10 2-2 5, Elish Benjamin 1-2 2-4 4, Cole Lehr 0-2 0-0 0, Jordan Lewis 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-64 23-33 88.
UTPB (11-1, 4-0)
Daeshon Francis 7-12 9-11 24, James McPherson 5-17 6-8 20, Josh Morris 8-10 4-5 20, Sammy Allen 4-7 6-6 15, Andres Villa 3-5 1-1 7, Renard Thomas 2-2 0-0 4, Amari Bryant 1-7 0-0 3, Zeldric King 1-1 0-0 2, Garrett Baggett 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 31-61 26-31 95.
Halftime — Cameron 50, UTPB 45. 3-Point goals — Cameron 11-27 (Johann Tate 4-8, Tyler Williams 3-6, Tyus Momoh 1-6, Delano Jones 1-3, Jalen Nicholas 1-1, Zach Dumas 1-1, JV Long 0-1, Chris Royal 0-1), UTPB 7-19 (James McPherson 4-11, Amari Bryant 1-5, Daeshon Francis 1-2, Sammy Allen 1-1). Total fouls — Cameron 27, UTPB 25. Fouled out — Cameron: Delano Jones, Cole Lehr. Technical fouls — Cameron: Delano Jones. Rebounds — Cameron 39 (Delano Jones 6, Tyler Williams 6), UTPB 37 (Sammy Allen 17). Assists — Cameron 7 (Tyler Williams 3), UTPB 19 (Sammy Allen 6).