One down, two to go.
The No. 20 McLennan men’s basketball team took care of business in the opening game of the NJCAA Region V Tournament, downing Clarendon, 89-68. The Highlanders now face South Plains, winner of its opening-round game against Ranger, 89-75. The game is set for a 1 p.m. tipoff at Frenship High School in Wolfforth, Texas, Friday.
MCC rode the scoring of Garrett Shaw (30 points), Xaiver Armstead (14 points) and Daniel Pinho Severo (13 points) in its win over Clarendon. Javen Hedgeman also scored in double figures with 12 points in the victory.
The Highlanders face a team that believes it needs to win the tournament in order to advance to the national tournament. South Plains (21-8) built a double-digit lead within five minutes of their game and was never really challenged after that. Isaiah Maurice had 20 points and seven rebounds for the Texans, and Jordan Branger contributed 18 points.
The Texans outrebounded Ranger, 36-26. Maurice, a 6-10 sophomore forward/center from Durham, N.C., said he wanted to use his size to his advantage against the smaller Ranger team.
MCC coach Kevin Gill has a high regard for the next opponent. “South Plains is pretty good,” he said. “They have three or four Division I transfers on their team. They were one of the top three teams in the country at the start of the season. They had some suspensions and injuries which caused them to lose some games, but they have all their players back now.”
The Highlanders plan to pressure the ball on the perimeter and force the Texans to score over them rather than go around them. Gill said the plan to play Maurice is to limit him to one shot and try to keep him off the boards.
When asked about the possibility of receiving an at-large bid, Gill recalled that the Highlanders didn’t get an at-large last year as a 29-2 conference championship team, so he wants them to win out to ensure getting to the national tournament.
The winner of the game will play the championship game Saturday at 2 p.m. against the winner of Collin County-Odessa game, which will be played at 3 p.m. Friday. Odessa, the No. 1 seed from the Western Texas Junior College Athletic Conference, downed No. 4 Temple, 114-93. No. 2 Collin narrowly escaped against No. 2 Howard, 70-68.