Alabama State head coach Lewis Jackson told his team over and over not to look past their semifinal opponents and toward the SWAC championship game. For their part, Arkansas-Pine Bluff tried to take full advantage as they sought to upset top seeded and regular season champion Hornets.
However, behind Andrew Hayles’ 16 points, ASU escaped with a 63-55 to set up a showdown with Jackson State for the conference title and the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
“It was a battle just like we expected,” said ASU head coach Lewis Jackson. “We played really good defense in stretches and rebounded ok. We tried to attack them inside and open up shots on the outside for Andrew, and he was able to knock some down.” ASU sprinted out to a 10-0 lead, and held a solid lead of six to ten points for most of the half. The Hornets’ second unit stretched the lead with solid contributions fro Tramaine Butler and Menji Mundadi, and ASU took a comfortable 37-22 lead to the half.
Hayles’ deep three from the corner pushed the lead to 16. After the teams exchanged a couple of baskets, Hayles hit another jumper to give ASU their biggest lead of the game at 18. UAPB mounted a comeback, as their full court press forced a couple of turnovers and quick shots but they couldn’t get any closer than eight.
“We lost tonight, but I’m really proud of our guys,” said UAPB coach Greg Ivory. “Alabama State is a great team and just to be able to cut a lead down against a team like that says about us. Our young guys had a tough time against their veteran club. That’s not an excuse, but they just executed better than we did.”
Lebaron Weathers led UAPB with 13 points. Gavin Montgomery scored 12. SU’s ChAief Kickingstallionsims had eight points, seven rebounds and five blocks.
Now, the SWAC gets the dream matchup with the #1 and #2 seeds squaring off the for the title. “Jackson State is a really good basketball team,” ASU’s Jackson. “We’ve got to do what we did tonight – defend them and hold them to one shot. We know they are going to rely on their big four, and it’ll take a great effort to stop them. It should be a great basketball game.”