'Cats reaching pivotal point of the season

Photo by Gerald Castillo

Men's College Basketball

Now is the point in the season where seeding begins to matter. 

Wins and losses are starting to weigh more and more heavily for Texas State (13-9, 6-4 in the Sun Belt) sitting in fifth place after Saturday’s loss to UTA. Yet, the  Bobcats are only two games out of first with Sun Belt leading Arkansas State (18-6, 9-2 in the Sun Belt) coming to town Monday night.

Seniors Kavin Gilder-Tilbury and Bobby Conley weren’t 100 percent against the Mavericks last week with Gilder-Tilbury gutting it out with a pulled muscle and Conley with sickness. Head coach Danny Kaspar didn’t blame the loss on both players’ conditions since he said his team didn’t play the type of defense they’re capable of playing.

“We have to learn from that loss at UTA, take it in stride and move on,” Kaspar said. “You can’t dwell on any victory of any defeat, you just got to move forward and take them one at a time.

“UTA shot too high a percentage against us and we cannot allow people to shoot a high percentage against us on the road or at home.”

With a week in between the loss to UTA and Saturday’s game against Little Rock (13-11, 4-7 in the Sun Belt), Texas State is back to full strength after having Sunday and Tuesday off.

Three teams ahead of Texas State in the conference standings (Arkansas State, Georgia State and Georgia Southern) are still on the Bobcats’ remaining eight games and a top-four seed receives a first-round bye in the conference tournament. This is the point in the season where teams are keeping one eye fixed to the conference standings table.

“We have to take care of our business,” Kaspar said. “It’s an opportunity for us to either move ahead or fall behind. I told the players, are we going to take advantage of the situation? We have four at home and four on the road.”

Little Rock

First up, however are the defending champs, Little Rock Saturday at 4:30 p.m.. Although the team isn’t as lethal on paper as they were a year ago, to Kaspar, the Trojans are a dangerous team. The team’s second-leading scorer and rebounder Lis Shoshi is back after missing nearly a month of conference action. The Kosovan is averaging 10.1 points and 7.5 rebounds per game and, along with leading scorer Marcus Johnson Jr., was a pivotal player on Little Rock’s 2016 conference championship team that upset Purdue in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

“We’ll be facing a healthy team that some other people did not face,” Kaspar said. “I still think they’re a very dangerous team and a team that you have to be ready to play or you’ll get beat.”

Unlike Texas State, the Trojans are an elite free throw shooting team with a team percentage of 74.9. Texas State is second-to-last at 64.8 percent. Kaspar says despite their record and conference standing (9th), Little Rock still possesses championship pedigree.

Arkansas State

Around this time a year ago, both Texas State and Arkansas State were more or less battling in Jonesboro for the final spot in the Sun Belt Tournament. The Red Wolves were playing for former head coach John Brady who announced his resignation earlier that season, but it was Texas State who came away with the 71-60 win on the road. The Red Wolves ended the season on a nine-game losing streak. 

Fast forward to 2017 and first-year head coach Grant McCasland has Arkansas State standing atop the conference at 9-2 tied with the two Georgia schools. 

“Coach McCasland’s done a great job at Arkansas (State),” Kaspar said. “Carter a holdover from last year is playing great and doing well. They’ve been competing well all year long.”

Mix returning leading scorer, Devin Carter with two instant-impact junior college players in Deven Simms and Rashad Lindsey and you have one of the Sun Belt’s most effective offenses as well as the top 3-point shooting team in the league.

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