San Antonio – As Kevin Kotzur sat in the Rattlers’ locker room Monday evening, the Rattlers’ star big man struggled to find much he and his teammates did right against Sul Ross State University.
“Very, very selfish tonight,” Kotzur said. “No communication on defense. We’ve got a lot of work to do before (Saturday’s game against Incarnate Word).”
And this was after the Rattlers had won by 13, riding a late surge to pound the Lobos 84-71 in their home opener at Bill Greehey Arena.
But Kotzur’s mindset was emblematic of his personality – introspective, fiery and brutally honest.
Given the high hopes the Rattlers have this season, it’s a mentality that should suit them well in their quest to match the expectations associated with being pegged the Heartland Conference preseason favorite.
Despite finding room to improve, Kotzur dominated the paint, scoring 17 points on a perfect 7-for-7 showing. The sophomore from La Vernia, Texas also added seven rebounds – five of which were offensive – and a steal.
Center Ray Marshall (Jr., El Paso, Texas) added 16 points and 11 boards, while point guard Josh Orta (So., San Antonio) scored 15 and collected four steals.
Despite the final score, the game was closer than it looked late.
Travis Johnson’s 3-pointer with 47 seconds trimmed the Rattlers’ advantage to 74-71.
But it was all St. Mary’s from there, as the Rattlers closed the night on a 14-3 run, including scoring the game’s final 10 points over the final 44 seconds to put the clamps on a pesky Sul Ross squad that kept the game interesting for everything but the final minute.
With 3:32 remaining in the first half, Jeff Campbell (Jr., Allen, Texas) stole a pass near midcourt a broke away for a one-handed jam to cut the Rattlers’ deficit to 28-26.
Following another steal seconds later, Orta converted a twisting layup to even the game at 28-28.
St. Mary’s had a similar surge early in the second half, building a seven-point lead only to see Sul Ross bounce back.
D.J. Castro (So., El Paso, Texas) made a 3-pointer from the left wing with about 9:30 left, putting the Rattlers back up 55-54 after the Lobos had regained a brief advantage.
Sensing his team needed a boost, Kotzur became emphatic on the offensive end, gesturing his arms wildly with about five minutes remaining and the Rattlers nursing a four-point lead.
Moments later, he spun inside and converted an easy basket to rebuild a five-point advantage, 70-65.
The Rattlers (2-1) outrebounded the Lobos 42-22, but surrendered 13 3s and committed 19 turnovers.
In addition to the final score, St. Mary’s notched another victory on the night, as droves of fans came out to participate in “Operation: Drive to the Basket,” an initiative sponsored by the Rattlers and the St. Mary’s Marian Guard to donate goods to St. Mary’s ROTC alumni deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
St. Mary’s hosts rival Incarnate Word at 4:30 p.m. Saturday.