Texas State men’s basketball fans may be stretching for signs of improvements in the Bobcats, who are 5-13 under first-year coach Danny Kaspar. At this point a year ago, the Bobcats were 4-14 under former coach Doug Davalos.
But here’s a sign that the Bobcats are better. Last Saturday, they lost by only eight at Strahan Coliseum against Texas-Arlington. The final score was 56-48.
Last season, UTA smashed the Bobcats twice — 91-74 at Strahan Coliseum on Jan. 12 and 75-50 at Arlington on Feb. 7. That second game actually started the Mavericks on a nice run of five straight wins and seven wins in eight games. But until then, the Mavs were only 10-9. This year, the Mavs are 7-10 with three returning starters and a fourth starter who was a key man from the bench in that game last Feb. 7.
The Bobcats could have won Saturday. Last year, they had no chance in either meeting with UTA.
Saturday, the Bobcats held a 28-24 lead early in the second half, then came up empty on their next six trips with the ball. UTA put up a 12-2 run for a 36-30 lead and led for the duration.
The Bobcats brought it to within 44-42 with 4:23 left on a layup by Wes Davis. But UTA scored the next six points, four of them at the free-throw line, for a 50-42 lead with 2:23 left. UTA salted it away by going four-for-four from the free-throw line down the remaining stretch.
By the numbers, the Bobcats did what they want to do defensively. They held UTA to 39 percent shooting (16 for 41) and forced 19 turnovers. See that in a boxscore and one figures the defensive team wins. But the Bobcats shot even worse than UTA, just 32.1 percent (18 of 56). UTA also outrebounded Texas State, 36-30.
And, for a road team, UTA smeared Texas State at the free-throw line. The Bobcats went to the line only 11 times, making seven, while UTA was 18-for-22. That’s an 11-point difference in an eight-point game at the free-throw line.
The Bobcats got pretty happy about shooting the three-pointer, even though they didn’t make very many. The five players who took the most shots — Joel Wright, Kavin Tilbury, Gordon Ball, Reid Koenen and Ray Dorsey — were four-for-16 from three-point range and 12-for-37 overall.
The Bobcats were highly out of character in trying 20 threes (making five). Perhaps not by coincidence, the 48 points they scored was their season low. They’ve tried 20 or more threes only two other times this year, in blowout road losses to Southern Methodist and Texas. This year, the Bobcats are averaging 13.4 three-point shots (making 4.55).
Ball scored 10 points with seven rebounds in 21 minutes, coming off the bench to lead the Bobcats in both categories. UTA’s Reger Dowell came off the bench to score 16, leading all scorers.
The Bobcats will go to Arkansas-Little Rock (UALR) Wednesday night to continue their Sun Belt Conference campaign. The Bobcats lost their league opener to UALR, 63-59, at Strahan Coliseum on Jan. 2, playing a pretty sound game. Again, the difference was at the free-throw line, where UALR was 20-for-25 and Texas State was 16-for-23, accounting for the four-point margin.
Texas State now is 1-4 in the Sun Belt Conference, barely being kept out of last place by South Alabama (1-5). UTA is 2-3 in the league and 7-10 overall. Georgia State is the surprise league leader at 5-0 and 12-6 overall. The Panthers are on a nine-game winning streak. UALR is second at 4-2, 9-9 overall.
COVER: Texas State forward Gordon Ball, a senior from Houston. TEXAS STATE SPORTS INFORMATION PHOTO