Texas State's furious rally falls short in Sun Belt championship game

Photo From the Sun Belt Conference

Texas State Women's Basketball

With a Sun Belt championship and NCAA tournament berth on the line, Taeler Deer made her move.

The senior guard, who was named conference player of the year, dribbled and a screen set by senior forward Ericka May opened the lane with Texas State trailing Little Rock, 54-53, in the final seconds of Sunday’s game.

Trojan junior forward Ronjanae Degray slid over to stop Deer’s drive inside, but she got off a contested look.

The ball hit the backboard.

Caught the rim.

But fell off.

The elation of a roaring 21-point rally turned into heartbreak. The Bobcats fell in the Sun Belt Championship tournament final, 54-53, inside Lakefront Arena in New Orleans.

“Obviously these types of games are tough,” head coach Zenarae Antoine said. “It takes you back to being a student athlete — Anytime you know how hard it is when you see your player busting their butts out there to put themselves in position to win a big basketball game at this level against one of the top teams in conference, and your heart honestly just really breaks for them. You question yourself as a coach to make sure you did all the right things to put them in the best position to win the game. But ultimately you just really are in a place where you really empathize with them because this team fought as it was obvious to all you guys that watched. I just told them we ran out of time.”

Texas State (23-9, 14-4 Sun Belt) struggled against Little Rock (23-9, 17-1) throughout the first half. The Bobcats couldn’t get a shot to fall as they finished with 17.6 shooting percent in the opening two quarters, while the Trojans were red hot. Little Rock converted 60 percent of its shots and took a 38-20 lead into the intermission.

The Trojans continued their strong start early in the third quarter and boosted their lead to 21 points, 43-22.

But Texas State slowly chipped away at the Little Rock advantage. The Bobcats only saw themselves down 48-37 at the end of the third period.

The Trojans pushed the lead back to 13 with 7:57 remaining in the game. Texas State responded with a 13-0 run to tie the game.

Little Rock junior forward Yanina Inkina pushed the Trojans ahead — 52-50. Bobcat junior guard Toshua Leavitt gave Texas State its first lead since 8:59 in the first quarter with a 3-pointer.

Little Rock responded with a lay-up from senior guard Monique Townson to put the Trojans back on top at 54-53

With 20 seconds remaining, graduate senior Zelor Massaquoi came down with a defensive rebound to give Texas State a chance to score.

Following a timeout, Deer made her move to the basket, but the rally fell short.

“I’ve made that shot so many times,” Deer said. “I got past my defender. I thought it was going to go in but it didn’t, but I’ll take it any day.”

Deer finished with a game-high 20 points and added eight assists and four rebounds. She was named Sun Belt tournament Most Outstanding Player. Leavitt added 11 points. Sophomore guard Brooke Holle was the final Bobcat in double-figures with 10, and she recorded seven rebounds.

Texas State season will continue as it claims the Sun Belt’s automatic bid into the Women’s National Invitational Tournament.

“Now we have to move forward,” Antoine said. “I don’t want them to hang their heads whatsoever. We’ve broken so many records within the season and these women still have an opportunity to break more. There’s a lot of positives to take away from this particular season and there’s hope for more afterwards.”

San Marcos Daily Record

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