LAREDO, Texas – No player in the Heartland Conference has been as decorated, productive or downright dominant as St. Mary’s Kevin Kotzur over the past two seasons.
The Rattlers’ big man leads the league this year in rebounding (8.6 per game), field-goal percentage (64.7 percent) and is second in scoring (17.7 points per game), and took home five of the 14 Player of the Week honors doled out by the league.
All this comes after he led the league in each of those categories a season ago by averaging 17.9 points and 8.3 rebounds while shooting 67.9 percent from the floor. And as was the case this year, no one won more Heartland Player of the Week awards last season than Kotzur (Jr., La Vernia, Texas).
But for the second straight year, the Heartland Conference’s head men’s basketball coaches have voted someone else the Heartland Conference Player of the Year.
Kotzur, who ranks fourth in the nation in field-goal percentage, made the All-Heartland First Team but lost the Player of the Year battle to Texas A&M International’s Evan Matteson, it was announced Thursday evening.
Matteson, who was not named the Player of the Week at any point this season, ranks ninth in the conference in scoring (12.6 points per game) and is fifth in the league in rebounding (6.8 per game) for the Dustdevils, who finished one game above the Rattlers (17-8, 10-4) in the final regular-season standings.
Lamb Autrey (Sr., Cibolo, Texas) joined Kotzur on the All-Heartland Team, being named to the Second Team after averaging 12.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.6 assists for the Rattlers.
On the court, Kotzur won the head-to-head battle against Matteson this season as the Rattlers and Dustdevils split their regular-season series, recording 28 points and nine rebounds to Matteson’s 14 points and three boards in the Rattlers’ road win in Laredo late last month. Kotzur had a double-double in their previous meeting, scoring 13 and hauling in 11 boards compared to Matteson’s 10 points and two rebounds when the teams met in San Antonio earlier in the season.
But neither that, nor the overwhelming season statistical edge, was enough to sway the coaches’ votes in Kotzur’s favor.
Texas A&M International’s Shane Rinner was named the Coach of the Year, while Newman’s Shamar Acuay is the Newcomer of the Year. Texas-Permian Basin’s Erik Martin won Defensive Player of the Year honors, while teammate Madison Turner was voted the Freshman of the Year.
Rounding out the All-Heartland First Team with Kotzur and Matteson was Dustdevil Ryan McLucas and – despite Dallas Baptist not qualifying for the Heartland Tournament – pair of Patriot players, Nick Fox and Jordan McGowen.
Making the switch from shooting guard to point guard, Autrey has been tremendous piloting the Rattlers’ offense this season, shaking off an early-season wrist injury to emerge as the team leader Rattler fans hoped and expected he would become.
Kotzur, an All-Region selection in each of the past two seasons, burst onto the scene as a freshman when he averaged 15.7 points and 8.4 rebounds two seasons ago. He only got better from there, soaring up the school’s record books. Going into the Heartland Conference Tournament, he ranks No. 9 on the Rattlers’ all-time scoring list with 1,395 career points and is No. 4 on the career rebounding list with 687 boards.
Could Kotzur and Matteson be headed toward another battle before everything is said and done? Well, that depends on what happens in tonight’s Heartland Conference semifinals, as the third-seeded Rattlers battle No. 2 Newman at 7:30 p.m. in Laredo. TAMIU hosts No. 4-seeded Arkansas-Fort Smith at 5:30 p.m.