San Antonio – With its chances of hosting the Heartland Conference Tournament having improved tenfold in recent days, the St. Mary’s men’s basketball team entered Saturday with a renewed bounce in its collective step.

And that stride turned into a full-on sprint against Oklahoma Panhandle State, as the Rattlers rolled to a 77-60 victory that wasn’t even as close as the final score indicated in their regular-season home finale at Bill Greehey Arena.

Kevin Kotzur (Jr., La Vernia, Texas) scored a game-high 20 points in 21 minutes, while seniors Ray Marshall (Sr., El Paso, Texas) and Lamb Autrey (Sr, Cibolo, Texas) appropriately starred to produce another 20 points combined (11, nine, respectively) on this, Senior Day.

Autrey and Marshall joined fellow senior Jeremy Fonteneaux (DeSoto, Texas), whose career was cut short after last season due to injuries, as being honored before the game.

The celebration continued into the game, as St. Mary’s (15-7, 8-3 in Heartland Conference) never trailed and led by as many as 28 points.

Now, the only question left now is whether more basketball will still be played inside Greehey Arena this season.

“That would be a good thing to do,” reserve forward Aaron Thomas (Jr., San Antonio) said of hosting the tournament. “We wouldn’t have to travel. It’d be in our advantage to host the tournament. We’re definitely striving for that.”

Thirteen players played in the win, with 10 scoring. The biggest cheer, however, might have come from the Rattler bench when reserve Santiago Soto (RS-Fr., Mexico City, Mexico) emphatically hauled in a rebound just a few seconds after checking into the game in the waning minutes.

“Santi’s a hard worker, I like to see him get in the game,” Thomas said. “He puts in his time. It’s good to see him play.”

The guys’ camaraderie carried into the locker room afterward, where Thomas, Marshall and Shavon Scott (So., Milwaukee) shared jokes before heading out.

The moment was a nice departure from the businesslike approach the team has adopted within the lines of the court.

“You just got to stay focused,” Thomas said of maintaining the Rattlers’ winning ways. “There’s a lot of distractions out there. That’s what Coach is harping on.”

Now, with three games left, the Rattlers suddenly find themselves back with a chance to host the conference tournament in a few weeks. Following Texas A&M International’s victory over the Newman Jets on Saturday, the Rattlers now are alone in second place, trailing the Dustdevils by just a half-game.

It leaves the Rattlers knowing they might not be done with Greehey Arena this season just yet.

“It’s good to see our last home game win,” said Thomas, pausing to correct himself. “I mean, hopefully it’s not our last home game. But it’s good to get the win.”

St. Mary’s will next play at Dallas Baptist at 7 p.m. Thursday.

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