EDINBURG — UTRGV is at its best when its pressure defense forces opposing offenses to stall before they ever have a chance to start. Entering Saturday, the Vaqueros averaged 9.8 steals as a team, which is good for ninth-best in the country.
But Texas State was able to break UTRGV’s frontcourt pressure, giving it the opportunity to find open jump shooters and easy baskets. The Bobcats shot 59.1 percent from the floor on 26 of 44 field goal attempts to down the Vaqueros 77-68 Saturday at the UTRGV Fieldhouse.
“They are well prepared and they shot the ball extremely well,” UTRGV coach Lew Hill said. “They did what you’re supposed to do against pressure by attacking it and putting us on our heels some. We left shooters when we weren’t supposed to. They were really good about splitting our traps. Even with that, they had 19 turnovers. Our guys fought, but we didn’t make shots when we needed them. I love the fact that we didn’t have any quit in us.”
Texas State (10-1) had four players in double-figures, led by Tre’Larenz Nottingham’s 19 points. Nijal Pearson, the Bobcats’ top scorer heading into Saturday at 20.3 points per game, added 16.
“Some of those guys hit their average. Some of them, above their average,” Hill said. “They have two or three really good shooters. We had chances to be there and we didn’t execute down the stretch.”
The Bobcats opened their largest lead, 57-41, more than six and a half minutes into the second half. It was then that UTRGV graduate transfer Tyson Smith began to heat up from the field.
Smith, who had been mired in a slump, scored 10 of the Vaqueros’ next 14 points. Smith’s 16 points were a career-high. He nailed 3 of 6 3-pointers Saturday after making just 2 of 22 from outside over the previous four games.
“I’ve just been inconsistent with my jumper the last three or four games,” Smith said. “I’ve listened to coach Hill a lot. He’s taught me to keep a level head, never get too high or too low. I just had to think that the next one was going to go in. Once the first one went in, I couldn’t stop.”
Smith’s scoring helped UTRGV reestablish its pressure defense, which led to Texas State’s lead dwindling down to six, 67-61.
“They started to play right into our hands,” Smith said. “Every team will do OK in the first four to 10 minutes, but right around that third or fourth media timeout, teams start to break. You start to see how our defensive style starts to pick up.”
Saturday marked the debut of redshirt junior forward Ndene Gueye in a UTRGV uniform. Gueye, a transfer from St. Bonaventure, was eligible for the first time this season after sitting out the spring and fall semesters in 2018.
Gueye earned the start but only played 10 minutes. He scored his first basket as a Vaquero with 6:47 to go in the opening half.
“Ndene hadn’t played in a year, so now, we’re trying to get him ready for conference play,” Hill said. “He’s not ready to play this game right now, but he will be.”