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Courtesy: Southland Conference

McNeese State ends UTSA’s season in 78-74 overtime thriller

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KATY — Junior Melvin Johnson III led four players in double figures with 19 points, but Dontae Cannon scored 18 behind a 10-for-10 night at the free-throw line and No. 4 seed McNeese State outlasted fifth-seeded UTSA, 78-74, in overtime in Wednesday's final quarterfinal of the Southland Conference Tournament at the Merrell Center.

The Cowboys improved to 16-14 on the season, while the defending tournament champion Roadrunners saw their season come to an end at 18-14.

Johnson scored 15 of his game-high 19 in the first half to help stake UTSA to a 30-19 lead at the intermission, but McNeese State turned 10 offensive rebounds into 17 second-chance points after the break and the Roadrunners could not overcome their second-worst free-throw shooting performance (56.3 percent) of the season.

Senior Stephen Franklin, who posted his third double-double of the season with 12 points and 10 rebounds, gave UTSA a 53-48 lead on a layup with 4:23 left to play.

However, McNeese went on a 12-3 run over the next four minutes and reclaimed the lead, 60-56, after Rudy Turner made 1-of-2 at the free-throw line, a place where the Cowboys also struggled (61.9 percent).

At the other end, Franklin followed a missed layup with a dunk to make it a two-point contest with 20 seconds to go. Southland Player of the Year Patrick Richard then was quickly hacked and he made 1-of-2 at the charity stripe to push the lead back to three.

Junior Michael Hale III quickly went coast-to-coast for a layup to make it 61-60 with 13.3 ticks remaining. UTSA then sent Cannon to the line, where he continued his perfect night to again make it a three-point contest.

Franklin quickly pushed the ball up the floor and found junior Kannon Burrage, who pulled up from the right wing and drilled a trey to knot the score at 63 with 6.4 seconds left, the 6-foot-2 guard’s first points of the night.

Richard’s long 3-point attempt at the buzzer was off the mark, which asent the Roadrunners to their fifth overtime contest of the season.

Jeremie Mitchell opened the extra period with a three from the right wing, part of his 13 points on the evening, but Johnson was good on baskets on back-to-back possessions to hand UTSA a 67-66 advantage with 3:34 left.

The teams then traded turnovers before a fast-break dunk by Hardy handed the lead back to McNeese 30 seconds later.

Turner made a pair at the line and Hardy had a tip-in to start a 6-0 Cowboys run, who found themselves ahead, 74-67, with 43 seconds to go.

However, UTSA did not quit, as sophomore Igor Nujic made two freebies and Burrage drained another long trey after Richard made 1-of-2 at the stripe to make it 75-72 with 21.8 ticks on the clock.

UTSA fouled Cannon, which gave McNeese two more points, and the Birds then missed a three. They hacked Hardy, who missed both to give the Roadrunners new life.

Franklin then was fouled while attempting a three and he drained 2-of-3 with 6.7 ticks remaining to trim the deficit to 77-74. UTSA then sent Desharick Guidry to the line, where he missed the first but made the second with four seconds left to ice the victory in the Roadrunners’ final game as a member of the Southland.

Sophomore Jeromie Hill also reached double figures for UTSA with 12 points and he added eight rebounds.

The Roadrunners committed a season-low eight turnovers, but they struggled to shoot just 33.3 percent (14-of-42) from the floor, 25 percent (3-of-12) from downtown and 59 percent (13-of-22) from the line after halftime

Johnson III drained a pair of NBA-range 3-pointers from the left wing and tallied nine total points during a 13-0 run, which helped UTSA to a 23-11 lead with 6:34 left in the first half. The Dallas native then drove to the basket for a one-handed layup and knocked down a pair of free throws at the 4:40 mark to make it 27-14.

UTSA shot 52.4 percent in the first half to help overcome an uncharacteristic 5-for-10 effort at the line. Johnson was 5-for-5 from the floor in the half and led all players with 15 points and six rebounds.

Meanwhile, the Roadrunners held the Cowboys to just 25-percent shooting, including 1-of-9 from downtown, and only two second-chance points.

McNeese made its first four shots and also converted a pair at the line during an 11-3 run to start the second half that pulled it to within three at 33-30.

UTSA answered with a pair of baskets, but McNeese used a 6-0 run capped by a Kevin Hardy layup to make it a one-point game with 12 minutes to play.

After Hale III found Nujic all alone for an easy layup, jumpers by Richard and Cannon gave the Cowboys a 40-39 advantage, their first lead since the 12:07 mark of the first stanza.

Richard posted a double-double of 16 points and 11 rebounds, while Guidry added 14 points to give McNeese a quartet in double figures.

The Cowboys shot 39.3 percent and made only 4-of-22 (18.2 percent) from beyond the arc and 26-of-42 (61.9 percent) at the line, but they used a 49-40 advantage on the boards and committed just eight turnovers in securing a spot in Thursday's second semifinal against regular season champion UT Arlington, which doubled-up Nicholls, 96-48, in the evening's first tilt.

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