Vereen leads Texas-Arlington to 82-79 victory over Northwestern State for first NCAA bid
KATY, Texas (AP)—Anthony Vereen and his Texas-Arlington teammates knew the school had never been to the NCAA tournament.
On Sunday, they changed that.
Vereen had 25 points and nine rebounds to lead the Mavericks to an 82-79 victory over Northwestern State in the Southland Conference title game Sunday, earning an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament.
“This feels like a weight off our shoulders,” Vereen said.
“You come to some places and they have all these championships and NCAA tournament appearances,” he said. “Then you come here and look in the record books and it says under championships, ‘None, none, none.’ So it feels pretty good to win this one.”
Vereen’s two free throws with 11 seconds left sealed the win for seventh-seeded Mavericks (21-11), who set a school record for victories. Roger Guignard added 17 points and Larry Posey had 11 for the Mavericks.
“I feel like Posey and Vereen are the best two post players in the league,” coach Scott Cross said. “Vereen is not only the best in the conference at playing with his back to the basket, he’s the best I’ve ever seen.”
Cross said he couldn’t describe what he was feeling after the win.
“It’s unbelievable to win this, and these three guys (Vereen, Guignard and Posey) are the reason we’re here,” he said.
Posey, a senior, had been to the conference tournament three times and always came up short.
“We just said `It’s our last year so let’s go out with a bang,”’ Posey said. “We wanted to shock the world, by winning this thing and I think we did.”
Trey Gilder had 20 points and Gerrell Thomas added 14 for Northwestern State (15-18), the tournament’s fifth seed which was looking for its third NCAA berth and first since 2006.
Texas-Arlington used an 11-5 run to take a 62-54 lead with 12:21 to play. The Mavericks led by as many as 10 points in the second half, but Northwestern closed within 78-77 with 2:22 left on three free throws by Colby Bargeman. The Demons were still down one when they turned the ball over with 12 seconds to go.
“We had the ball and just couldn’t keep a handle on it,” Northwestern State coach Mike McConathy said. “We had a chance to go ahead then, but that’s the way it goes. We kept fighting and never gave up. That’s a pretty good game we had out there.”
Gilder missed a 3-point attempt as the clock ran out.
“I thought it was going to go in and we were going to overtime,” Gilder said. “But it just wouldn’t fall.”
Added Bargeman, “We played our hearts out. It just didn’t go our way at the end. It was just a couple of plays we didn’t make.”