UTSA fends off McNeese State for Southland Conference automatic bid

KATY, Texas -- Devin Gibson had dreamed of winning a championship ever since he decided to play for Texas-San Antonio.

After each of his first three seasons ended short of that goal, coach Brooks Thompson told him they'd do it this year.

On Saturday, in the senior's last shot at a title, Gibson and the Roadrunners finally did it, beating McNeese State 75-72 in the Southland Conference championship for an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament.

"He's everything to our basketball program and he's the reason that we're the Southland Conference champions with seven freshmen and one senior," Thompson said. "He wanted [this] for four years and if he wouldn't have got it, it would have been the hardest thing for me to swallow."

Gibson, the tournament's most valuable player, took a moment before cutting down the net to reflect on the win.

"It just kind of hit me. Wow. It's really happening," he said while wearing the net around his neck.

Freshman forward Jeromie Hill scored 25 points to lead the Roadrunners, who were up by nine before McNeese State responded with a 12-5 run that included a pair of 3-pointers to make it 74-72 with 27 seconds remaining.

Sei Paye missed a pair of free throws, giving McNeese State another chance. C.J. Collins missed a 3-pointer and got his own rebound, but stepped out of bounds to give the Roadrunners the ball.

Melvin Johnson III, who finished with 14 points, made one free throw to push the lead to 75-72, and Patrick Richard's desperation heave at the buzzer bounced off the rim.

"It felt good and looked good, but just didn't go in," said Richard, who fell face down to the court after the shot.

Top-seeded McNeese State (21-11) was led by Diego Kapelan's 20 points.

Texas-San Antonio, the No. 7 seed, led for the entire second half and held on to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2004 and the fourth time overall.

The 6-foot-8 Hill, the Southland Conference freshman of the year, shot 10 of 14 overall and 4 for 4 from 3-point range to help Texas-San Antonio (19-13) win its fifth straight game.

Hill's performance helped offset an off day for Gibson, who had 26 points in the semifinals. Gibson had just two points at halftime but finished with 15 on 4-of-10 shooting.

"We took a lot of time to concentrate on him and felt like he was the biggest key," McNeese State coach Dave Simmons said. "But with us focusing on him they had kids who stepped up and played well."

Gibson had to leave for a few minutes early in the first half after taking a hard spill and hitting his face in the same area where he has a cut from an injury late in the regular season. He remained on the court for a couple of minutes after the injury and was looked at by trainers on the bench before returning.

"I was kind of struggling after that the first half, but I was able to go in at halftime and get composed," he said.

Richard finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds for McNeese State and Stephan Martin added 16 points.

Texas-San Antonio led by seven with about 10 minutes remaining before McNeese State went on a 10-5 run to get within 53-51. The Roadrunners used a 7-2 spurt after that to extend their lead to 60-53 with 4½ minutes left.

McNeese State scored five straight points to get within two before Texas-San Antonio used a 9-2 run to open some breathing room.

McNeese State beat Texas State to reach the championship game and Texas-San Antonio outlasted third-seeded Sam Houston State.

Texas-San Antonio led 30-28 at halftime.