TMM9 :: WAC Tournament First Round :: Then There Were Nine

(This is the thirty-fifth installment of Bill Harty’s game recaps as part of The Mid Majority ninth season taking readers to mid-major college basketball games around the country. Visit midmajority.com to find out more about this group-sourced effort to spread the word about the many fine basketball programs around the country that are having success on and off the court while generally not having access to the resources brought to athletic programs by big-time college football. Bill will be recapping most Aggie home games, and the occasional road foray, for both The Mid Majority and bleedCrimson.net.)

With ten schools In the WAC for this year, the tournament starts with first round games on Tuesday among those teams at the bottom of the standings. The first contest, matched the seventh seed, Texas State (10-20 overall, 5-12 WAC), against tenth-seed Seattle (8-21, 3-15 WAC). Texas State swept the team’s closely contested games in the regular season, the Bobcats winning 86-83 in Seattle, and 67-65 in San Marcos.

The tournament is hosted by the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, which has undergone an amazing switch of logos in the sixteen hours following the conclusion of the West Coast Conference tournament in the same venue. The floor, chairs, doors, banners along the walk from the hotel to the arena and, well everything in the place now sports the WAC logo.

These teams are among the fastest pace teams nationally according to kenpom.com. Texas State is fifth, averaging over 72 possessions per contest; Seattle is in the top 50, averaging just under 69 posessions.

Texas State head coach Doug Davalos (yes, New Mexicans, he is the son of retired UNM AD Rudy Davalos, who started his collegiate head coaching career at Southwest Texas State, now known as Texas State) sent his team out ready to play. The Bobcats started the game aggressively with an 8-0 run; the teams each scored 28 points in the rest of the half. The Redhawks were tentative on offense throughout, and that was not helped by an early knee injury to forward Chad Rasmussen, who returned to the game, but was not as effective as usual. First forward Matt Staff, then second-team all conference forward Joel Wright led the charge for the Bobcats; Wright had sixteen first half points. Once the opening burst had passed, the Redhawks got solid play from forward, Deshaun Sunderhaus, with inside contributions from Staff and Rasmussen. Texas State guard Phil Hawkins got a “jawing” technical foul just before the intermission; Rasmussen’s free throws ended the half with a 4 point run by Seattle, making the halftime score TSU 38, Seattle 28.

The Redhawks extended their run to twelve as they started the second period with the first eight points, tying the game at 36; Rasmussen hit a pair of three-pointers sandwiched around a layup by guard Allen Tate. Texas State responded with a 14-5 run of their own, turning a couple of forced turnovers into a 47-39 lead. Both sides looked a little fatigued, and seemed happy when an extended officials’ review (that resulted in no change in the foul call) gave them a short break. The Redhawks scored seven of the next nine points, and with eight minutes to play, the Bobcat lead was three. As they had all game, the Bobcats responded by scoring seven quick points on a pair of long jumpers and, after a great steal by Wright, a short hook shot by Staff. The Bobcats lead by eight at the final media timeout. Deonte’ Jones rebounded a missed Redhawk shot, made an amazing spin move to lose a defender at half court, and reached Wright with an “alley-oop” for the spectacular dunk to seal it with a minute to play. Fouling during garbage time did not help, as Wright and Hawkins each made four free throws down the stretch without a miss. The final score was Texas State 68, Seattle 56.

Seattle had three players with double figure scoring: Sunderhaus with fifteen, guard Prince Obasi with thirteen (and ten rebounds), and Rasmussen with eleven. Joel Wright’s twenty-six points and nine rebounds reminded everyone why he received all-WAC honors. Staff added thirteen; Hawkins and forward Reid Koenen each scored nine.

Seattle’s season ends with the hope and despair that come from losing a lot of close games; they’ll be among the three teams returning to the WAC for next season. Texas State moves ahead to the quarterfinals on Thursday where they will face the slowest playing team in the WAC (and second in the nation): the Denver Pioneers; the Bobcats’ exit to the Sun Belt will wait at least another couple of days.