KATY - The Texas A&M-Corpus Christi men's basketball team opened the second half with a 21-6 run turning a 10-point deficit at halftime into a 12-point win, 78-66, over UTSA in the first round of the State Farm Southland Conference Men's Tournament at the Merrell Center on Wednesday afternoon.
With the win, Islanders will now face second-seeded Stephen F. Austin in the semifinals for the second-straight season. Last year, the Lumberjacks, who won 77-54 over UT Arlington in the opening round, ended A&M-Corpus Christi's season in the semifinals with a 63-60 win en route to claiming the tournament title. SFA won the meeting in the regular season by 21 points two weeks ago.
"We did a good job of keeping our composure," said Islander head coach Perry Clark. "In the first half, UTSA did some things that took us by surprise. I give a lot of credit to my staff for identifying what they were doing us to help make the turnaround in the second half. We were much more comfortable in our rotations in the second half."
On Wednesday, A&M-Corpus Christi won the rubber match between the two sides by exploding out of the halftime break with a 21-6 run to take a 52-47 just over eight minutes into the half.
The Islanders would dominate in the paint opening the half with back-to-back dunks by Horace Bond and Demond Watt. Kevin Palmer, who had 19 of his game-high 26 points in the second half, capped a 7-0 spurt to start the half with a three-point basket to make it a 41-38 game.
"Kevin showed the type of leader he is in the second half," said Clark. "He showed some real maturity and didn't get frustrated early. In the second half he heated up and that got us going.'
After UTSA rattled off six points in a row to extend the lead back to nine, 47-38, A&M-Corpus Christi took the lead for good with a 14-0 run. Palmer led the charge with 14 points, while Justin Reynolds had a dunk and a put back in the run.
Terry Fields ended the run for the Islanders with a bucket to make it a three-point game, 52-49 with 11:31 remaining. The Roadrunners could get no closer.
Leading by four, 55-51, after UTSA's Omar Johnson hit baseline jumper with 7:17 remaining, the Islanders put the game away for good by hitting 9-of-10 of foul shots. They would extend their lead to as many 16 with 1:40 remaining.
A&M-Corpus Christi hit 68% from the floor in the second half finishing the game by converting a season's best 62.5% of its shots. The Islanders also had a 34-26 advantage on the boards and outscored UTSA 44-24 in the paint.
The Roadrunners hit 22.2% in the second half after making 51.7% in the opening period.
The Islanders struggled with fouls and turnovers in the first 20 minutes. The Islanders had 13 of their 19 miscues in the first period and trailed by 10, 41-31, at halftime. Both Palmer and Justin Reynolds missed the final 11:21 after picking up their second fouls of the half.
Four Islanders finished in double figures led by Palmer's 26. Shamar Coombs came off the bench to add 11 and LaMarr Drake also netted 11. Reynolds had 10 points and led TAMUCC with nine rebounds. Reynolds had four blocks in the game and Filip Toncinic two. Palmer added seven assists and Drake swiped three steals.
Morris Smith IV led UTSA with 16 points after scoring 11 in the first 20 minutes. Omar Johnson scored 13 and Fields 10. Smith IV had a double-double with 12 rebounds. UTSA's Devin Gibson, who averaged over 14 points a game coming in, finished with six and hit just one field goal.