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Old 03-13-11, 08:24 AM
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Roadrunners finish the job

UTSA earns first NCAA bid since ’04


KATY — Scissors poised, UTSA senior Devin Gibson
paused for a split second before snipping the last strand of net Saturday at the Merrell Center.

Thoughts raced through his mind, about God, his deceased grandmother and all the work he had put in over the previous four seasons.

More than anything, however, Gibson just needed to collect himself as reality sunk in. He had finally achieved his ultimate goal — the Roadrunners are heading to their first NCAA tournament since 2004 after beating McNeese State 75-72 in the Southland Conference title game.

"It was just like, 'Wow, it finally happened,'" said Gibson, a four-year starter whose teams had been ousted from the Southland tournament in each of the past three seasons, including the 2009 final.

As has been the case so often with the Roadrunners (19-13), it didn't come easy.

Their 69-60 lead with 1:21 remaining melted to just two in the face of a withering barrage from McNeese, which drilled four straight 3-pointers in the span of 41 seconds.

"They made it interesting," said UTSA coach Brooks Thompson. "It took everything we had to get out of here with a win."

The Cowboys (21-11) could have tied the game after Melvin Johnson III missed the second of two free throws, but Patrick Richard missed under pressure from Stephen Franklin just before the buzzer.

"When they were dribbling down, I was just thinking, 'Somebody's got to contest; somebody's got to contest,'" Gibson said. "Stephen did a great job."

McNeese also had three chances to tie it at 74 on the previous possession, but Gibson blocked C.J. Collins' layup attempt, and Collins missed a 3-pointer before stepping out of bounds while driving baseline with the offensive rebound.

So the Roadrunners survived, completing a stretch of five must-win victories in 11 days, the last four of which weren't decided until late, to reach the Southland and now the NCAA tournament.

Though the field won't be announced until today, UTSA, at No. 202 in the latest RPI rankings, will almost certainly be assigned to one of the First Four first-round games, scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio.

They'll have the chance thanks, in large part, to freshman forward Jeromie Hill, who had one of the best — and certainly most timely — games of his young career with a game-high 25 points.

"Once I hit that first one, I got confidence," said Hill, who made 10 of 14 shots, including all four 3-point attempts. "I knew if I saw daylight, it was going up. And they kept going in."

The Roadrunners also received critical contributions from role players such as Franklin (10 points, 10 rebounds, three assists) and little-used walk-on Kalif Bakare, who had two points and three assists in the first half as Gibson shook off a blow to the head.

But as usual, Gibson was there at the end, scoring 13 in the second half to secure tournament MVP honors. More important, he has at least one more game to play.

"He's got what he's been after for four years," Thompson said. "For that to finally happen, it's special."


Roadrunners finish the job - San Antonio Express-News
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