Photos by Gerald Castillo
Texas State rallies in second half to down Warhawks, 71-51
It had been a long time since Nijal Pearson had a bad night.
Texas State’s leading scorer had posted double-digit points in every game this season heading into the Bobcats’ home matchup with Louisiana-Monroe (6-14, 2-9 Sun Belt) Thursday night. His last game with less than 10 points came against Georgia State on March 16, 2019, when he failed to score against the Panthers in the Sun Belt tournament semifinals.
The senior guard was due for an off-game. Pearson began Thursday night’s contest missing his first 12 field goals. The Bobcats’ offense sputtered, shooting just 23.08 percent from the floor in the first half, their lowest mark in any game this year, and trailed the Warhawks 30-24 at halftime.
“(Pearson) knew it, too.” junior guard Shelby Adams said. “As a leader, I feel like he did a good job of talking to us at halftime, knowing that he was in a slump, telling us just stick together and it was all going to work out at the end. So that’s what we did.”
The hosts picked up the slack in the second half, nearly doubling the team’s shooting percentage to 45.71 in the period and ending the game on top, 71-51.
“That was a tale of two halves,” head coach Danny Kaspar said. “I think our defense in the second half was outstanding and it gave us points.”
Adams drew one of the toughest assignments on defense, guarding ULM’s leading scorer, junior guard Michael Ertel, who had 14 points in the first half. Texas State junior guard Mason Harrell hit a jumpshot on the first possession of the second half. The visitors looked to Ertel for their first shot of the period, but Adams stifled the guard to force a miss. Junior forward Isiah Small sank another jumper on the other end to cut the lead to two points.
Harrell tied the game with a free throw at 36-36 with 15:02 on the clock. Ertel missed a 3-pointer on the next play and the Bobcats pitched the ball ahead to senior center Eric Terry in transition, who made the fastbreak layup to take their first lead of the game.
Ertel made just four points in the second half, shooting 2-8.
“Michael Ertel, he’s a good player, for sure,” Adams said. “It was a big challenge for me, but I’m always ready for that.”
Adams helped out on the offensive end, too, as the maroon and gold began feasting in the paint. The hosts were held to six points in the lane in the first half, but exploded for 18 in the second.
On one play, Pearson hit Adams with a bounce pass on a backdoor cut from the left side, leading to an and-one layup and free throw to push Texas State ahead 48-38. Terry, junior forward Isiah Small and redshirt sophomore center Alonzo Sule combined for 19 points in the second, each munching on post-ups and putbacks that helped the Bobcats seal the 71-51 win.
“We really just started to pound it inside,” Sule said. “I feel like we picked up the energy in the second half and the intensity.”
Sule finished with a team-high 15 points and eight rebounds. He was followed by Adams with a season-best 12 points and Small with 10. Pearson sank two treys in the second half to finish the game shooting 2-16 with eight points.
“The team defense, our centers and Shelby were the winners tonight,” Kaspar said. “As frustrated as I was with Eric and Alonzo (during Texas State’s 64-62 loss against UT Arlington) Saturday night, they had a good game tonight. They did a good job.”
Texas State (13-9, 6-5) will take on Louisiana (9-13, 4-7) on Saturday inside Strahan Arena at 4:30 p.m. in the second game of a joint-doubleheader with the women’s basketball team.