Pearson's late sequence seals Texas State's win over Troy

Photo by Gerald Castillo

Texas State Men's College Basketball

Ojai Black didn’t realize that freshman Nijal Pearson went scoreless from the floor Saturday night until he saw the stats after the game.

The senior guard examined the score sheet during the post-game press conference, but only remembered Pearson’s contributions in every other facet of the game including a sequence in which he grabbed three consecutive offensive rebounds to preserve Texas State’s 63-59 win over Troy (16-13, 8-7 in the Sun Belt) Saturday night inside Strahan Coliseum.

With under a minute remaining, freshman forward Nedeljko Prijovic missed a jump shot, but Pearson was there for the board. The Serbian lofted a floater in the lane on the next sequence and that too fell off the rim, but again, Pearson was there to tap it back out to the perimeter.

On the third attempt, senior forward Kavin Gilder-Tilbury was fouled, but missed the front-end of the one-and-one to cause a scramble. Of course, Pearson was there to clean it up once again and draw the foul.

“That tap-out was such an intelligent play,” head coach Danny Kaspar recalled. “(Pearson is) a very smart basketball player. He was ranked sixth in his high school class, I might be cheating him, he might be five or four … When you teach him something, he catches on real quick, he gets it.”

With 19 ticks left, the Beaumont native converted two free throws that ended up being the difference in Texas State’s penultimate home game of the regular season.

“(Pearson) was defending, he was rebounding, he was out there being tough like (Kaspar) wants us to be,” Black said. “Those last rebounds we big, huge for us. They basically won the game for us. It just shows his toughness and he kept his mind right throughout the game … Not too many freshmen can go 0-for-7 in a game and continue playing like that.”

Pearson finished with 10 rebounds and four assists.

Troy’s Jordon Varnado frustrated Texas State (16-11, 9-6 in the Sun Belt) early on. Kaspar reminded his team that the Trojans would look to the big sophomore inside, but regardless Varnado’s use of power and quickness torched junior Immanuel King for 18 points in the first half.

Kaspar matched Varnado’s quickness by assigning Prijovic to guard him in the second half. Using his length to keep Varnado from getting the ball close to the basket, the Serbian held Varnado to just six points in the second half with help defense coming around the edge when needed.

“I didn’t think Immanuel could stick with him,” Kaspar said. Quite frankly, I kept getting on Immanuel to quit reaching for the ball, try not to make your man catch it. If he does catch it, make him catch it further out and he wasn’t responding.”

Troy entered the break with a 30-27 lead and Gilder-Tilbury picked up his third foul just 18 seconds in the second half. The senior admitted to letting his foul trouble knock him off his groove to start.

“I was out of rhythm, out of flow, out of my normal game and my teammates told me to shoot the ball and be aggressive,” Gilder-Tilbury said. “That’s what I did.”

Gilder-Tilbury scored 11 points in the second half and went 3-for-4 from 3-point land to finish with a team-high 17 points. Black added 13 points with senior Bobby Conley contributing 13.

Saturday’s win guarantees that the Bobcats will and the regular season with a winning mark for the first time since the 2004-05 season. Texas State returns for its final home game of the regular season Monday night at 7 p.m. against South Alabama.

San Marcos Daily Record

(512) 392-2458
P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666