They might be struggling on the road, but at Kitty Magee Arena, the TWU Pioneers have a knack for pulling out gritty and narrow victories.
Tuesday’s contest fluctuated back and forth, with Texas A&M-Kingsville tying the game in the final minute, but the Pioneers were able to fend off the hard-charging Javelinas with clutch free-throw shooting to remain perfect at home, winning 72-69.
“This is a scary team because they’ve been in so many close games,” TWU coach Beth Jillson said of A&M-Kingsville. “They’ve been in these situations. We shouldn’t have been in this situation late, but we gutted it out. [Kenesha] Saygo made some key free throws for us to give us at least a three-point lead and a little bit of comfort.”
The Pioneers (5-7, 1-2 Lone Star Conference) held a 67-60 lead with 3:17 left on senior Mary Kovtun’s layup, but the Javelinas bowed up with an 8-1 spurt to tie the game at 68 with 37 seconds left.
With A&M-Kingsville (5-6, 0-1) down 70-68 after two free throws by Saygo, Javelinas top scorer Lindsey Mahone managed to hit one of two free throws. Saygo closed out the game with two more free throws with six seconds left.
TWU’s offense delivered one of its better shooting performances of the season. Saygo was 5-of-6 from the charity stripe in the second half after posting a team-high eight points in the first half to give TWU at 39-33 halftime lead.
Junior Ria Pateraki was the Pioneers’ top offensive authority with 14 points while pulling down a game-high nine rebounds.
“I feel like our execution could have been better, but it was much better in the second half,” Saygo said. “[Jillson] basically said, ‘Do you want to win or lose?’ She pulled us together and got us the mentality that we needed the win. After she got done yelling at us in the locker room, we came out with a killer instinct, like put your foot on their neck and don’t let up. That’s what we did.”
The Pioneers, who earned their first Lone Star Conference win of the season, came out flat to start the game, falling behind 8-0, which prompted Jillson to call an anger-filled timeout.
“We just came out flat and you can’t do that,” Jillson said. “We talked about that. You have to start quick. They did respond well. We went into halftime with a good lead and thought we could have extended it. We got stagnant again, and we need to be able to finish out halves better.”
From then on, TWU reacted with desire and determination. The Pioneers took their first lead of the game, 14-12, at the 13:07 mark of the first half on junior Toree Mason’s 3-pointer, and they were able to hold the lead until the game was tied at 68.
While the Pioneers committed 26 turnovers, they were effective passing the ball, outassisting the Javelinas 13-8 while asserting their dominance in the paint — holding a 38-28 scoring advantage and 45-36 rebounding edge.
“Rebounding was really good,” Jillson said. “We had 17 offensive rebounds. Our goal was to outrebound them by 10. We did by nine. We talk about that a lot and taking care of the ball. That’s something we need to get better at. We had 26 turnovers. It’s got to be better.”
PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873 and via Twitter at @PatrickHayslip.