FORT SMITH, Ark. – UAFS senior Ladarius Coleman played a pivotal role in the Lions earning their fourth berth in the NCAA Division II National Tournament, but his career-best scoring performance wasn’t quite enough to give the Lions their first win in the Big Dance.
Coleman scored 23 of his career-high 25 points in the second half against the University of Texas of the Permian Basin, but the No. 7 seed Lions couldn’t completely erase their early double-digit deficit against the No. 2 seed Falcons, losing 87-69 in the first round of the South Central Region at First United Bank Center in Canyon, Texas.
It was the 16th meeting in the all-time series between UAFS and UTPB, who were each members of the Heartland Conference until the Falcons left for the Lone Star Conference two seasons ago. UAFS, which is ranked No. 23 nationally, still leads the all-time series 10-6 against the Falcons, who are ranked No. 19 nationally.
The Falcons, who finished runner-up in the Lone Star Conference Tournament and earned an at-large bid, will play No. 3 seed Regis, which beat No. 6 seed Dallas Baptist 87-82 in the first game of the tournament on Saturday, at 5 p.m. on Sunday.
UAFS (24-6), which won a share of the Heartland Conference regular-season title, finished the best season ever of its NCAA Division II era, setting a school record for single-season wins and being ranked in both national polls the entire season, peaking at No. 4 in the D2SIDA Top 25.
The Lions struggled to get their shots to fall early in the first half, shooting a season-low 19 percent from the field (6 of 31) from the field – they were only 2-of-14 shooting from 3-point range – and just 50 percent from the free-throw line (5 of 10).
UT Permian Basin took advantage of the UAFS’ cold shooting, building what turned into an insurmountable 30-point halftime lead (49-19).
The Lions found their shooting touch in the second half, though, shooting 52 percent from the field (17 of 33) – they were 4-of-8 shooting from 3-point range – and 86 percent from the free-throw line (12 of 14).
UAFS cut its deficit to 18 points on a free-throw by senior guard DaVaunta Thomas with 16 minutes left to play, but UT Permian Basin pushed its lead back to as many 28 points (82-54) on a 3-pointer by Daeshon Francis with 4:47 left to play.
The Falcons shot 46 percent from the field for the game (37 of 81) – they were 8-of-28 shooting from 3-point range – and shot 57 percent from the free-throw line (5 of 9). Josh Morris led the Falcons with 28 points, while Francis chipped in 18 and James McPherson 12.
Sammy Allen had a team-high 15 rebounds to help the Falcons out-rebound the Lions 50-41. UT Permian Basin had 14 offensive rebounds that it turned into 16 second-chance points.
UAFS shot 36 percent from the field for the game (23 of 64) – it was 6-of-22 shooting from 3-point range – and shot 71 percent from the free-throw line (17 of 24).
Coleman and senior guard Marcus Wallace, who had 11 points, were the only Lions to score in double-figures. Coleman’s 10 rebounds topped off his team-best seventh double-double and marked the ninth time the Memphis, Tenn., native collected 10 or more rebound in a game this season.
NCAA DIVISION II NATIONAL TOURNAMENT
SOUTH CENTRAL REGION
NO. 2 UTPB 87, No. 7 UAFS 69
UAFS 19 50 — 69
UTPB 49 38 — 87
UAFS (24-6): Coleman 25, Wallace 11, Thomas 9, Glapion 7, Rivera 7, Crawford 4, Elder 4, Strong-Moore 2
UTPB (25-6): Morris 28, Francis 18, McPherson 12, Baggett 9, Allen 8, Bryant 5, Villa 4, King 3