Texas State men’s basketball’s run to the NCAA Tournament and Davalos’ reign as head coach ended March 17 with a loss to New Mexico State University in the WAC semifinals.
The seventh seeded Bobcats (12-22) upset the No. 2 seed the University of Denver in the quarterfinals of the Western Athletic Conference Tournament that advanced the Bobcats to the semifinals.
In their previous meeting with Denver, the Pioneers took apart Texas State’s defense with their spread offense. Denver shot 55.3 percent from the floor and had four players in double figures en route to a 79-64 victory. This time around, the Bobcats hit their final 10 free throw attempts to ensure a 72-68 victory over the Pioneers.
“I feel like our expectations at the beginning of the year were a little high,” said senior forward Matt Staff. “But we came on really strong toward the end of the season. Once we beat Denver, the entire team and I felt like we could have gone all the way and won it (the WAC Tournament Championship).”
Junior forward Joel Wright did not need to look far for inspiration. Despite leading the conference in scoring at 17.9 points per game, Wright was named to the College Sports Madness All-WAC Second Team. Denver forward Chris Udofia was named to the first team.
In the tournament, Wright got 32 points and seven rebounds, while shooting 9-10 from the floor and 14-16 from the foul line. Phil Hawkins added 13 points. Udofia finished the game with 12 points and three rebounds.
Texas State’s three-game winning streak, shooting 50 percent from the floor or better in all three victories, came to a halt against No. 3 New Mexico State. The Aggies went on to win the championship game against UT-Arlington and earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Wright led the Bobcats with 17 points and 11 rebounds, his sixth double-double this year. Junior guard Deonte’ Jones scored 16 points and Staff ended his Bobcat career on a 13-point effort.
“My play was just for the love of the game,” Wright said. “I wasn’t trying to compete with anybody, or trying to prove anything. I just played my game and gave my team the best opportunity to win.”
Wright was named to the All-WAC Tournament Team as a result. Through three games, he shot 61.1 percent from the floor and set a new tournament record of 31 made free throws. At the 12:30 mark during the New Mexico State game, Wright’s lay-up made him the fifth player in school history to eclipse the 600-point mark in a single season.
“Our motivation was to stay together as a team, and to play through adversity,” Wright said. “It brought us together as a team. We know what we want to accomplish now, and we know that we’re capable of achieving it moving forward.”
The Bobcats will be in good hands, having four of the five starters returning next year. Junior guard Hawkins, who averaged 10.3 points in their recent three-game win streak, will accompany Wright on the returning roster. Their third leading scorer Reid Koenen, averaging 8.1 points on the season, and Jones, who led the WAC in 3-point field goal percentage at .453, will also return.
“This tournament is going to help them a lot,” said Staff about the junior class. “This year, altogether they all have came so far, and especially at the very end. I know next year they’re going to be a really good team. I’m happy and excited for next season to see what they’re going to do.”
The Bobcats will be losing four seniors and have six of their seven top-minutes-played players returning.
“If I could leave them with one thing,” Staff said, “It would be to remember the bad times. We’ve been through a lot of bad times together. The collection of guys that were there until the very end turned out to be a really good team. I hope they remember everything they went through whenever they’re on top.”