Men’s basketball closes season with late thriller


Sharome Burton

Jared Evans (right), applied arts & sciences sophomore and Jajuan Starks, business senior bump in celebration of win. Photo by Sharome Burton. March 2.

Men’s basketball drew the curtains on a challenging season with a thrilling 69-68 win against Texas A&M Kingsville (TAMUK) at the D.L. Ligon Coliseum March 2, improving their record to to 9-19 avoiding their worst losing season since 1947.

The team, lifted by the support of a packed home crowd including over a hundred military service members, seized a 36-29 lead at the break before TAMUK bullied their way back into the game by dominating the paint scoring 28-8 in the second half.

However, leading 69-68 with just 37 seconds left, men’s basketball managed to execute a defensive stop to secure the win.

For head coach Neil Haggerty, whose side was already out of playoff contention with a 5-13 Lone Star Conference record, ending the season on a high was pleasing.

“It shows a lot of character from our guys. We had maybe one guy on our team that’s been in this position where we know we’re not going into the post-season at all and so we made a decision that we were going to come out here and compete and honor the game, each other and our school,” Haggerty said.

Haggerty said the team rose to the occasion for the season finale.

“Having the military out here was a great environment for us and I’m just really happy for the way our guys responded,” Haggerty said. “We came out and had a great first half defensively and took care of the basketball against a very good defensive team – something we’ve had a hard time doing all year-long. I’m just really proud of our guys and an all-together great night.

players crowd military
Men’s basketball celebrates victory in season finale with military service members in audience. Photo by Sharome Burton. March 2.

It also proved to be a fairy tale ending for Jajuan Starks, business senior who led all scorers with 14 points in his final game for men’s basketball.

“It feels fantastic just to end my career here with a win and a good win while we’re at it,” Starks said. “I’m just really lost for words. I just can’t believe this is ending. My college career.”

Starks said a special drive was ignited in the team when the game got to the dying minutes.

“I didn’t really have to say anything. Just by the looks on our faces, we knew what we had to do. We had to close it. I knew this was my last game and I wanted to go with a win and they wanted that as well,” Starks said.

Haggerty said Starks was a key piece to their plans this season. The senior led the team in scoring with an average of 14.4 points – the fourth-best in the LSC.

Starks jump shot
Jajuan Starks, business senior rises for contested jump shot. Photo by Sharome Burton. March 2.

“Jajuan wants to come out and play well. He’s battled through some injuries of late, but he’s really been the one guy offensively especially when we played a good bit of the season without Josh [Wallace, business management junior] to score the basketball and really be productive in that way,” Haggerty said.

Haggerty said players like Starks have the potential to step up to another level in the game, but the college experience has prepared them for the uncertainty of that process.

“I’m just really proud of Jajuan and he wants to go play [professionally] like a lot of these guys do and he’ll have a shot but it’s not promised. You go through elementary school, boys and girls clubs, YMCA’s, junior high, then high school and AAU basketball and then you have an opportunity to go to college –he’s played about every level of basketball and this will be the first time where he has some uncertainty of him playing,” Haggerty said. “That’s what we try to prepare these guys for where nothing basketball-wise is promised; you’ve got to take all of these experiences that you’ve learned in competition and being part of the community to help you into your next job or when you have a family and those kinds of things.”

Haggerty said there were positive signs from the rest of the roster as the team transitions to the post-Starks era.

Harris shot
D’Monta Harris, junior rises for his second of four made 3-point field goals. Photo by Sharome Burton. March 2.

“We got a lift from our bench. In the second half when we came out not playing well, Tayvion [Johnson, freshman] came and gave us great energy and enthusiasm, D’Monta [Harris, junior] came out and made some big shots and was good defensively for us – those are the things that we could build on and look back on heading into next season,” Haggerty said. “We only have one [senior] and that’s a good thing. We’ve got a lot of guys back and we know they’ll be hungry and already talking about the off-season and getting themselves prepared to go.”

Harris, who sunk four 3-pointers in the second half said the team formed stronger bonds during a tough season.

“This is a team that’s very unique. We didn’t end the way we wanted to but it was nice for us to come out here in front of a packed crowd and especially our guys who represent our country but we’re still looking forward to the future,” Harris said.  “Now that we’ve had a year together we’re going to have more chemistry. This was a brand-new team and now that we’ve at least had a run together, in the future with that chemistry we’ll be able to go further than what we did this year.”