Falcons players on the home bench locked their arms, leaned in, and turned their necks to peer down the length of the floor to the far basket — knowing they needed just one miss.
That’s when the first shot went up, hung in the air, arched its way down, then crashed off the rim and fell wide, sending the UTPB women’s basketball players on the bench into a quick, muted frenzy before they settled themselves back down onto the bench.
A miss and a make later, and after an inbounds pass to make it official, UTPB had beaten Midwestern State 59-57 for a big Lone Star Conference victory Saturday in the Falcon Dome — and with the final buzzer, the Falcons were free to jump for joy, and celebrate arm in arm all across the court.
Midwestern State trailed by three points on the game’s deciding possession, and drew a foul on its last-second 3-pointer, sending a Mustangs’ player to the free throw line needing to make all three foul shots with just 0.7 seconds left on the game clock.
But when that first free throw fell wide, UTPB knew it had survived.
“It’s exciting,” Falcons guard Jasmine Spriggins said after the win. “It really is.”
In victory, UTPB toppled the second-place team in the conference standings, handing Midwestern State just its second league loss as the Mustangs fell to 7-5 overall and 4-2 in the conference, and UTPB pushed to 5-9, 3-3.
The Falcons led by as many as 11 in the third quarter, and held on down the stretch to pull off the win.
With their third Lone Star Conference win, the Falcons have already matched the team’s conference win total from last season.
“I think everybody is excited to be a part of a changing culture for this program,” UTPB’s first-year head coach Rae Boothe said. “It starts with them, the players.
“I’m glad that they got to get some success tonight, with how hard they’ve been working.”
Sierra LaGrande led UTPB with 17 points, while Khali Pippins-Tryon scored 13 and Spriggins added another 11.
The Falcons and their havoc-wreaking defensive system, which leads the conference in steals and turnover margin, helped dictate the pace through a low-scoring first half.
Limiting Midwestern State to make just four of 29 shots from the field in the first half, UTPB went into the locker room with a 21-14 lead.
Scoring picked up in the second half, but UTPB matched Midwestern State’s firepower. LaGrande and Pippins-Tryon knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers to put UTPB up 39-28 with 2:10 left in the third quarter.
Down the stretch, Midwestern State chipped its way back in, especially once Falcons’ senior guards Victoria Lopez and Jackie Perez fouled out, the second of coming out with more than three minutes to go in the game. But the sophomore, Spriggins, and junior Kayla Bretherton kept composure on the floor to stave off the Mustangs in the late stages.
“We’ve been working hard, and it finally paid off,” Bretherton said. “It’s a good feeling.”
The Falcons poked away 12 steals, near the mark for a team averaging a league-best 12.5 per game. Unlike previous conference losses, though, this time the Falcons outrebounded their foes to go with those steals. UTPB hauled in 45 boards while Midwestern State mustered just 34. UTPB’s 45 rebounds marked a season-high in conference action.
It was a more complete performance on Saturday night, and one the Falcons hope to duplicate when conference play picks up against next Thursday.
“I just think that we really brought it today, and we actually played to our potential,” LaGrande said. “Obviously we have a lot of things to continue to improve on, but I think when we actually bring that intensity and fire, we can cause a lot of trouble in this league.
“I think it just gives us more confidence to keep going.”
MIDWESTERN STATE (7-5 overall, 4-2 Lone Star Conference)
Jasmine Richardson 2-3 8-10 12, Whitney Taylor 3-14 1-3 10, Kristin Rydell 3-8 0-0 9, Chelsea Adams 1-3 5-8 7, Micheline Mercelita 3-8 0-0 6, Kityana Diaz 1-2 2-2 4, Chelcie Kizart 0-4 3-8 3, Mica Schneider 1-1 0-0 3, Leanna James 1-1 0-0 2, Courtney Kerr 0-4 1-2 1, Avery Queen 0-2 0-2 0, Anni Scholl 0-2 0-0 0, Hannah Reynolds 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 15-53 20-35 57.
UTPB (5-9, 3-3)
Sierra LaGrande 6-13 1-2 17, Khali Pippins-Tryon 5-6 1-1 13, Jasmine Spriggins 4-8 0-2 11, Kayla Bretherton 3-11 3-8 9, Jackie Perez 0-5 4-4 4, Alexandria Dockery 0-2 3-4 3, Victoria Lopez 1-5 0-0 2, Heather Crittenden 0-2 0-0 0, Kristel Reid 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-52 12-21 59.
Midwestern State…… 8…. 6 19 24 — 57
UTPB……………………. 9.. 12 21 17 — 59
3-Point goals — Midwestern State 7-18 (Whitney Taylor 3-9, Kristin Rydell 3-5, Mica Schneider 1-1, Chelcie Kizart 0-1, Courtney Kerr 0-1, Anni Scholl 0-1), UTPB 9-20 (Sierra LaGrande 4-8, Jasmine Spriggins 3-4, Khali Pippins-Tryon 2-2, Jackie Perez 0-4, Victoria Lopez 0-2). Total fouls — Midwestern State 19, UTPB 29. Fouled out — Midwestern State: Micheline Mercelita. UTPB: Victoria Lopez, Jackie Perez, Khali Pippins-Tryon. Technical fouls — Midwestern State: Jasmine Richardson. UTPB: Khali Pippins-Tryon. Rebounds — Midwestern State 34 (Chelsea Adams 5), UTPB 45 (Kayla Bretherton 9). Assists — Midwestern State 11 (Jasmine Richardson 4), UTPB 12 (Jackie Perez 4).