Photo by Gerald Castillo
Texas State's season ends with loss to FIU in opening round of CIT
Danny Kaspar woke up Saturday morning unaware that Texas State would be without its leading scorer.
The Bobcat head coach and the rest of the team didn’t learn that junior guard Nijal Pearson would miss Saturday’s game against Florida International until shootaround during the afternoon.
Pearson suffered a thigh contusion in Friday’s practice that kept him from playing in the first round of the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament.
Texas State battled without Pearson. Senior guard Tre Nottingham put up a career-high 27 points and brought down five rebounds. But the Bobcats lost, 87-81, against the Panthers in front of a sparse crowd of 1,237 inside Strahan Arena.
“It’s kind of tough to adjust (without Pearson) with that little time,” head coach Danny Kaspar said. “But I thought they gave it a valiant effort.”
Texas State (24-10, 12-6 Sun Belt) fell behind early in the first half. FIU (20-13, 10-8 Conference USA), which entered Saturday’s game with the nation’s fastest offense according to KenPom’s adjusted tempo, used its quick pace to build an 18-9 lead with over 14 minutes left in the opening half.
But the Bobcats fought their way back on top, 33-32, with a layup from Nottingham. The Panthers tied the score on the following possession. FIU regained the lead with a layup from senior guard Brian Beard, Jr, and the Panthers pushed their advantage out to 44-37 in the final seconds with a bucket from junior forward Osasumwen Osaghae.
Texas State junior guard Jaylen Shead ended the period with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 44-40 at the half.
The Bobcats evened the score at 48-48 quickly in the second half with two free throws from Shead. Texas State’s defense stiffened, while the offense powered its way ahead behind Nottingham and Shead. The Bobcats grabbed a 56-53 lead with a 3-pointer from Nottingham and saw their lead balloon to nine points twice.
FIU’s press defense got the Panthers back in the game. FIU took a 79-78 advantage with 2:40 left in regulation after a 3-pointer from redshirt junior forward Devon Andrews. Texas State answered on the ensuing possession with a layup from Shead. But a bucket inside from Osaghae put the Panthers on top 81-80. FIU never gave up the lead and Texas State’s season came to a close.
“I feel the same way after every loss,” Nottingham said. “I’m not too emotional, too down on myself. Seeing that it’s my last game, it is what it is. I wish we would’ve went out with a bang but they just played harder. I’m not too emotional right now because I understand I played with one of the most fun teams I’ve ever been on this year. It’s been a fun year.”
Beard and Andrews terrorized Texas State with 29 points each. Alongside 27 points from Nottingham, Shead tallied 16 points and three assists. Junior forward Eric Terry and sophomore Shelby Adams scored 12 points each.
The loss marks a frustrating end to a strong season. The Bobcats finished the year with the most wins since the 1993-94 campaign. But Texas State lost four of its last five games. The team’s final two regular-season losses to South Alabama and UT Arlington took it out of contention for a Sun Belt championship. The loss to Georgia State in the conference tournament semifinals ended the Bobcats’ hopes for their first NCAA berth in 22 years.
“It’s a shame that we let it get away from us with the two losses at the end of the year to UTA and South Alabama,” Kaspar said. “It’s disappointing that we didn’t win at least a share of the conference title or the conference title. It’s disappointing we didn’t go to the NCAA tournament.”
Added Shead: “It’s been an up-and-down battle for the past three weeks just trying to fight through injuries and sickness. I felt like for a team, who wasn’t predicted to be in the spot we were in, I felt like we handled it good. I just think the ball didn’t bounce our way a couple of plays and that’s just how the season went.”
The Bobcats wanted more for this season. But despite the disappointing end, Texas State exceeded expectations after being picked to finish eighth in the Sun Belt preseason poll and ending the year in a three-way tie for second.
“We had higher goals, higher expectations but it didn’t go that way,” Nottingham said. “But it is what it is at this point. But I had fun this year. This is a good group of guys. I love these dudes.”