By Danielle “Dani” Wright Director of Strategic Communications Gulf Coast Athletic Conference
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – In a game where 6-seed Tougaloo (32-1) trailed 10-seed St. Thomas (26-8) the entire first half, the Bulldogs outscored the Bobcats 42-33 in the second half to punch their ticket to the NAIA Men’s Basketball Championship Quarterfinals. The Bulldogs will take on top-seed College of Idaho Wednesday, March 15 at 1 p.m. CT at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City. [Box score]
Tougaloo got off to a slow start, missing field goals in the paint and close jump shots, and St. Thomas (Fla.) jumped out to an early 13-4 lead. As with games throughout the season, the Bulldogs continued crashing the boards, grabbing key rebounds to claw their way back into the game.
Tougaloo went on a 5-2 run and pulled within four points (20-24). The Bobcats grabbed a quick offensive board after a missed three, but a turnover led to Bulldog points as De’Arius Henyard drained a jumper to make the score 24-22 in favor of St Thomas. Tougaloo tied the game at 24 with six minutes to play in the half, but the Bobcats jumped back in front on a three-pointer by Milton Matthews.
While it seemed there was a lid on the basket in the first half, De’Arius Henyard connected on a three with 2:31 to play in the half, tying the game at 29. The Bulldogs and Bobcats traded missed shots until James Harris III drained a three. Tougaloo responded immediately with a three-pointer from the corner by Cameron Woodall, and the game was tied at 32 with just over a minute to play in the first period. The Bobcats’ Justyn Rogers hit a quick three with one minute to play, giving St. Thomas a 35-32 edge going into halftime.
The second stanza started much like the first, as St. Thomas extended their lead to nine (41-32) at the 17:29 mark. This was familiar territory for the Bulldogs, as they were down by nine in two previous contests (SAGU, Texas A&M Texarkana). Rebounding became the difference-maker in the second half. With each push by the Bobcats to extend their lead, Tougaloo grabbed offensive and defensive rebounds and hit on shots they were missing in the first half, keeping the excitement high and the score close.
With the score tied at 54, Copeland hit a three-pointer and was fouled by Fred Mulbah. Converting the free-throw, GCAC Player of the Year lifted the Bulldogs to a 58-55 lead, which they would not relinquish.
Tougaloo scored another 16 points, sparked by suffocating defensive play, to defeat St. Thomas 74-68 in Monday’s matinee.
D’Andre Johnson led St. Thomas with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Milton Matthews chipped in 13 points, and Rogers grabbed 11 boards. Mulbah had a game-high five assists.
Copeland led all scorers with 20 points and added six rebounds. The Bulldogs shot 60% from the floor in the second half, with 18 of Copeland’s 20 points coming in the second period. Henyard shot 6-of-8 from the floor for 14 points. He, along with Antonio Patterson added six rebounds each.
Tip-off is set for 1 p.m. CT for Wednesday’s matchup against College of Idaho. Tickets are on sale at the door and online, and the game will be broadcast live on the NAIA Network.
Watch Coach Strothers’ interview on HBCULP+ where he discusses the game, his team’s grit, and how conference play prepared his team for this tournament.
Post-game Quotes from Tougaloo Head Coach Eric Strothers
On the win…
“This is a big win for Tougaloo College. It’s the furthest they’ve made it [in the tournament], so it’s big for my players, it’s big for the State of Mississippi, it’s big for the GCAC, and we’re just enjoying the moment right now.”
On being a team of two halves…
“When you have great players like Cam Copeland, Antwan Beans, Darryl Jones, Trajan Fielder… I have great players surrounding me and they make the adjustments. We play the first have and then we come in and make the adjustments. They know what I want. We practice this stuff every day, and we get better and better at it. We’re getting better and better as a team, and they understand how to finish and win games.”
On the win streak…
“They know we start every day 0-0. We take that method into every game. All we try to do every game is go 1-0. So today, we’re 1-0. We’re not 31 and whatever, we are 1-0 today. Tomorrow, we’re going to start over and be back to 0-0. That keeps the team focused, not thinking about the record, but trying to get to the next win.”
On the team’s focus for the next game…
“We just want to play our game. We play our game and don’t let other people push us into their game. I’m looking at two really good teams right now [College of Idaho vs. LSU Shreveport], and both of them are [seeded] higher than we are. They have some good players and coaches, and the only thing we can do is play our game on Wednesday. I’m counting on my team to do what they need to do to get the win.”