Photo by Gerald Castillo
Pearson's game-winning shot pushes Bobcats past Louisiana
Nijal Pearson is unafraid.
Texas State’s junior guard also has a short memory. The rough shooting night Thursday? He already forgot about it. And the alley-oop slam dunk Louisiana senior forward Jakeenan Gant threw down to give the Ragin’ Cajuns a 62-61 lead late in Saturday’s game? It was no concern.
Without hesitation, Pearson rose up and with Louisiana junior guard Marcus Stroman’s hand in his face, he swished a game-winning 3-pointer with 1:21 left in regulation.
— Nick Castillo (@Nick_Castillo74) February 23, 2019
Texas State’s defense stiffened and survived a last-second prayer from Ragin’ Cajun forward Justin Miller to defeat Louisiana, 64-62, in front of 4,706 fans during senior day inside Strahan Arena.
“I'm not scared of nothing," Pearson said of his game-winning shot. “I was sure of it before I caught the ball. When I caught it, I just went into my shot. I was sure I was going to make it … It gave us momentum. We got the crowd into the game. It was a big shot. It took a lot but that’s what I work, why I work so hard, for shots like that. I live for shots like that.”
Where does that game-winning shot rank in Pearson’s all-time shots list at Texas State? Ask him where it places in a week. For now, Pearson and the Bobcats (22-6, 11-4 Sun Belt) are celebrating a win that propelled them back into sole possession of first place in the conference standings.
“They’re a happy group in (the locker room),” head coach Danny Kaspar said. “They’re very happy and I’m happy for them.”
But earning that 11th Sun Belt victory came with its fair share of challenges. Kaspar said he felt like the “commander at the Alamo finding out that 300 replacements aren’t coming” after senior forward Alex Peacock and sophomore forward Quentin Scott were ruled out due to the flu.
Sophomore Akiem Daschner made his first career start in place of Peacock. Kaspar worried Daschner would have a heart attack when he was told he would start against Louisiana.
“He told me in the huddle, and I was confused,” said Daschner, who had only averaged 5.9 minutes on the court in 10 games played this season before Saturday. “I thought he said the wrong name. I was looking around and he kept going with it. So, I just came and played.”
The sophomore forward put together an admirable effort with six points and seven rebounds in 33 minutes on the floor.
Texas State held a comfortable 18-point lead with 17:04 left in the second half. The Bobcats held onto a double-digit advantage until 8:26 remaining in regulation. Louisiana (16-11, 7-7) slowly cut into the deficit behind a 25-point performance from sophomore guard Cedric Russell, who scored 13 points in the final nine minutes of the game.
Gant, who was held scoreless in the first half, came alive in the second half. He scored 13 points and brought down 10 boards in the final period. His biggest bucket came with 1:40 on the clock. Gant’s slam dunk gave the Cajuns their first lead of the night at 62-61.
But Texas State wasn’t going to allow itself to lose. Louisiana’s lead only lasted 19 seconds after Pearson’s fearless go-ahead 3-pointer.
The Bobcats secured their second win over the Ragin’ Cajuns in program history with Saturday’s 64-62 victory.
“I still have some animosity from last year,” senior guard Tre Nottingham said. “I wanted to beat these guys before I head out from my senior year and we got the job done tonight.”
Nottingham paced Texas State with 17 points. Pearson tallied 13 points and seven rebounds. Junior forward Eric Terry added 13 points and six rebounds.
Texas State took a one-game lead over Georgia State in the Sun Belt standings after the Panthers fell to Coastal Carolina, 95-82, on Saturday. The Bobcats will be forced to earn their first conference championship in 22 years on the road as they travel to play Troy, South Alabama and UT Arlington in the final regular-season stretch of the season.
“We’ve got to be road warriors,” Kaspar said. “Go on the road and win three. When I looked at the schedule, I said, ‘those last five games are going to be hard.’ But we’re in a position where we can control our own destiny.”
With three regular-season games remaining this year, Texas State is only concerned on becoming the best version of itself as it looks to complete its quest for a Sun Belt crown.
“Just being our best self that’s our only concern,” Pearson said. “If we’re our best self, we’re not worried. The other team needs to be worried. We just need to be our best self. If we can be our best self, we will win the conference championship."