The Rattlers are going to the Heartland Conference final. (File Photo: Antonio Morano Photography / www.moranomemories.photoreflect.com)
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LAREDO, Texas — The St. Mary’s men’s basketball team is in the Heartland Tournament championship game!
Surviving a game of wild swings back and forth, the third–seeded Rattlers prevailed in Friday’s semifinals with a 63–60 victory over No. 2–seeded Newman at Texas A&M International’s Kinesiology Building.
Kevin Kotzur (Jr., La Vernia, Texas) led the way with a statement–making 24 points and 13 rebounds, while the pure–shooting Moses Sundufu added 17 on 3–of–7 shooting from beyond the arc to put th Rattlers (18–8) in the championship game.
St. Mary’s will face fourth–seeded Arkansas–Fort Smith at 4 p.m. Saturday, as the Lions stunned No. 1 seed Texas A&M International in Friday’s other semifinals game.
Against Newman, the Rattlers by 10 early only to endure a 19–2 run from the Jets that left the Rattlers down seven late in the first half. But St. Mary’s rallied back to go on a 9–2 run of their own to tie things up 31–31 at the half.
The second half was tightly contested throughout, with neither team leading by more than six points at any stage. It was Daryell Taylor’s (Jr., Houston) jumper with 2:30 left that gave the Rattlers their biggest lead of six, 62–56.
Newman cut the lead down to two with a pair of baskets over the final 1:30, but a D.J. Castro free throw with eight seconds remaining gave the Rattlers some breathing room with a 63–60 advantage.
Newman’s Eric Saunders and Shamar Acuay each fired up errant 3’s over the final seconds as St. Mary’s held on to advance to the next round.
The winner of Saturday’s championship game will earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Division II South Central Region Tournament.
NOTEBOOK: With Kotzur’s big night, he once again moved up a spot on the St. Mary’s all–time list in career points and rebounds. With his 24 points, he surpassed Winston Miles for the No. 8 spot on the all–time scoring list. He is 37 points away from No. 7. On the career rebounding chart, he moved to No. 3, catapulting Charles Ford for the spot. He is 64 rebounds away from moving into the No. 2 slot.
St. Mary’s University, as a Catholic Marianist University, fosters the formation of people in faith and educates leaders for the common good through community service, integrated liberal arts and professional education, and academic excellence. The University has six athletic national titles: men’s basketball (1989–NAIA), baseball (2001–NCAA Div. II), softball (1986–NAIA and 2002–NCAA Div. II) and an individual national champion in men’s golf (2006–NCAA Div. II) and a national academic championship in men’s golf (2009–NCAA Div. II). St. Mary’s also had more than 40 percent of its athletes named to conference, regional and/or national honor rolls this past year. St. Mary’s student–athletes graduation rate is 65 percent, higher than the NCAA Division II average of 55 percent. To learn more about St. Mary's, visit www.stmarytx.edu/athletics.