State notches first winning regular season record in 12 years

Photo by Gerald Castillo

Men's College Basketball

The most discernible goal of Texas State (16-11, 9-6 in the Sun Belt) head coach Danny Kaspar’s brief tenure in San Marcos was achieved Saturday night – a winning record.

The Bobcats’ 63-59 win over Troy guaranteed the program’s first winning regular season record since 2005 and the most wins (16) since the 2010-11 season. With three games still on the docket (Sun Belt Tournament not included), the Bobcats could still realistically finish with their best mark in nearly 20 years.

“Seeing what this program has been going through the last six seven, years, all the work we put in, all the sweat, I don’t think people know how hard we work,” senior guard Ojai Black said Saturday night. “You just get to see 40 minutes of us out there playing. It’s a lot that goes into this, a lot of hours, a lot of time, a lot of sacrifices. Just to see us try to get over that hump a little bit and start something even if it’s just one game over .500, at least we can start a trend for the young guys.”

Kaspar believed last season would end Texas State’s recent dismal tradition of sub-.500 basketball, but came up two games short. Despite graduating three starters and losing five other players to transfer or dismissal, the Bobcats are still in the hunt for a top four conference tournament seeding. The difference between this year and last? Kaspar credits his seniors, Black, Bobby Conley and the lone four-year player Kavin Gilder-Tilbury for being the glue to this season. Players credit a new mindset after considering last year a disappointment.

“Last year we let emotions and a lot of things get to us and it affected our game,” Gilder-Tilbury said. “This year we’re not letting nothing (affect us), just trying to win games, focus on every little thing. Every possession matters. We’re just staying together no matter what.”

It was championship or bust since the seniors got back to work following last season.

“We put the mindset in all of the guys,” Black said. “We just think the way we think. We come in every day, we grind, we work and we all have a vision. That vision is to win a championship.”

Gilder-Tilbury’s blossoming from a second option into a premier Sun Belt player has been a noticeable difference as well. Every season, the Houston native improved in nearly every statistical category and despite taking more of the offensive load this year, he’s increased his efficiency shooting a career-high field goal and 3-pointer percentage.

When Kaspar originally got Gilder-Tilbury to commit to Stephen F. Austin, before both eventually landed at Texas State, he believed he signed a talent that could end up being better than a redshirt freshman he had at the time in Thomas Walkup. At the time, Walkup hadn’t yet displayed the scoring touch that Gilder-Tilbury had in high school. Walkup of course went on to make himself a brief household name during the Lumberjacks’ NCAA tournament run in 2016, but at the time Kaspar saw no reason to believe the two wouldn't compliment each other.

“(Gilder-Tilbury’s) worst enemy is himself,” Kaspar said. “If he misses two or three, sometimes he can get down on himself.”

Kaspar feels that the forward has earned himself a First-Team All-Conference nod averaging a team-high 16.3 points per game and ranking second in the Sun Belt in defensive rating behond UTA's Kevin Hervey. The 62-year-old also believes that Ojai Black deserves to be named Defensive Player of the Year for the successfully defending the conference's top-tier point guard talent every week.

“It means a lot that he feels that way about me as his point guard, as his best defensive player,” Black said. “If I win the award, it’d defintiely be an accomplishment, but if I don’t, it is what it is.”

With one goal in the bag, Texas State’s next is post-season play. Whether that comes in the form of an upset NCAA bid or another tournament, the Bobcats hope they’re not done playing basketball any time soon.

San Marcos Daily Record

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