LSC MBB: Motivation not a problem during Hilltoppers LSC tourney run

CANYON – Sometimes it is tough to find motivation. St. Edward’s has had zero issues finding a reason to be motivated during the Lone Star Conference tournament.

The Hilltoppers pulled of another upset in the LSC semifinals Friday night cruising to a _-_ win over No. 14 Texas A&M-Kingsville.

SEU advances to the LSC title game where they will meet No. 8 West Texas A&M at 3 p.m. Saturday in a rematch from last season’s tournament finale.

The Javelinas are forced to watch the selection show at 9:30 p.m. Sunday night to see if they have earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Division II South Central Regional.

“You witnessed our best game of the year,” St. Edward’s coach Andre Cook said. “We had two tough losses against Kingsville (earlier this year). We felt we could beat Kingsville and I thought we were ready to play today. We changed up some things on the defensive end, really guarded them, and rebounded the basketball.”

“It was the worst game we played this year by far,” Texas A&M-Kingsville coach Johnny Estelle said. “Give coach Cook and his staff credit, they did a great job. I don’t know if I’ve ever coached a team that gave up 19 threes but they couldn’t miss and we couldn’t make one so that’s a bad combination.”

The Hilltoppers entered the LSC tournament as the No. 8 seed and defeated top seeded Lubbock Christian on a three-point shot with two seconds remaining.

In the semifinals, SEU had a rematch with the Javelinas, who defeated the Hilltoppers by a combined four points in their two meetings during the regular season.

To add a little fuel to the fire, the two previous games against TAMUK was contentious to say the least.

“After the storms in Austin where we had eight days apart, we did a lot of reevaluating and we’ve been pretty good since we got back from the storms,” Cook said. “Things weren’t going great for us during the year and something switched with us. We talked about a new approach and we snuck into the tournament.

“We had a new life heading into the Lubbock Christian game and then we got Kingsville, who had beaten us in heartbreakers and stunners this year.”

The Hilltoppers left no doubt on Friday as they never trailed and built a 19-point lead at the half.

“My message to the team is pretty clear,” Estelle said. “This game doesn’t define us and it doesn’t define our season. I was a little shocked that we were seventh in the last regional rankings. I thought we had a great resume and we beat two ranked teams.”

SEU has one more hurdle between its first LSC title and an automatic bid to the South Central Regional. Rest assured, the Hilltoppers have plenty of motivation remaining.

“Us and West Texas have played in the most important games for the last three years now,” Cook said. “We played them in the regional final in 2019, we played them in the last game of the year in 2020, and we’ve been the one and two seeds in the regional the last two years.”