Freshman tandem leads Bobcats past Lamar in CIT
Make no mistake, Texas State (21-13) is gunning to win a trophy this season.
It had been over 30 years since the Bobcats last notched a postseason win before Thursday night’s 70-60 win over Lamar (19-15) in the first round of the CollegeInsider Tournament (CIT). The last time Texas State did, the program was an NAIA school back in 1980 and head coach Danny Kaspar was in his first year of coaching as an assistant at Lamar.
“That’s a long time,” freshman Nijal Pearson laughed during his post-game press conference. “It’s exciting to know that we got a lot of people supporting us … I think we have a lot of fans that believe in us. It’s fun to play for them, they get excited when they see us win and even when we lose, they’re still supporting.”
Kaspar admitted to being a little in the dark about his team's mental state leading up to Thursday night.
“At this time of the year, you don’t know what to expect after what we’ve been through,” Kaspar said. “You’re wondering if the guys are going to be thinking about, ‘We should be playing Duke tomorrow,’ are they into the game that you’re playing now? It’s an easy thing to do at their young age.”
Pearson scored a game-high 18 points against Lamar, his hometown college who heavily recruited him out of Central High School. After the game, he had nothing but affection for the Cardinal coaching staff and roster, a lot of whom he grew up playing with.
“I love those guys over there,” Pearson said. “A lot of those guys I grew up with, about six of them, grew up playing ball together. It’s always fun when you get to play against people you know.
The Beaumont native showed why Lamar pushed so hard to recruit him.
Texas State’s lead dwindled to six in the second half, Pearson, who sat most of the opening half with foul trouble, made his second 3-pointer of the night. Lamar’s Christian Albright missed a shot on the other end and Pearson loaded up again from 3 – good. Following a media timeout an another missed shot from the Cardinals, Pearson pulled-up for his third straight 3-pointer and hit. In under three minutes, the Bobcats were up 55-42.
“When I hit the second one, I knew I was shooting the third one for sure,” Pearson said. “I started to feel it. That was the first time I’ve ever caught fire like that, the most 3’s I’ve ever hit back to back ever.”
A minute later he nailed his fourth in as many attempts to put Texas State up 59-42. Pearson finished with a new career-high five 3-pointers made.
Before Pearson’s second-half explosion, his roommate, freshman forward Nedeljko Prijovic, tallied a new career-high 13 points thanks to his 11 in the first half. The Serbian went 4-of-5 shooting and added nine rebounds and three assists.
“My teammates told me just attack, be aggressive because they tell me all the time, I’m capable of doing those things,” Prijovic said. “I just try to rebound and do things what coach is telling me to do basically.”
Kaspar expressed concern about a mental-hangover after losing to Troy in the Sun Belt Championship game and the players admitted to still feeling like they came up short.
“It was a really disappointing, but we got another opportunity to play here in Strahan which motivated us,” Prijovic said. “We just came out and played basketball.
“No one thought we were going to make it to even the Sun Belt (Championship) so we just want to prove to them that we’re capable of doing that. That was like, a hard loss against Troy, but we want to win this thing if we can.”
Texas State will know its next opponent in the near future and will either play Sunday or Monday.