Hilltoppers’ win over UTPB propel them to conference finals, will face St. Mary’s Saturday


Head Coach Andre Cook and the Hilltoppers celebrate their victory over UTPB Friday night in San Antonio. 

Sports Editor

SAN ANTONIO — No. 2 St. Edward’s University earned the chance to play for the Heartland Conference Championship after beating No. 3 University of Texas of the Permian Basin (UTPB) 78-70 Friday night at St. Mary’s University.

The men’s basketball team will play today at 4 p.m. against rival No. 1 St. Mary’s for the conference championship.

It was a hard-fought victory for a St. Edward’s team that has dropped their last four meetings against UTPB.

Head Coach Andre Cook credits the win to his team sticking to the game plan.

“Got off to a great start, so it relieved some pressure in a playoff game. And they (the team) were awesome today, they were awesome,” Cook said.

Leading the charge for the Hilltoppers with 25 points was sophomore Ramir Burton. Burton shot nearly 60 percent for the game and went 11-18 at the free throw line. Frankie Mgbolu and Harley Nussman both registered in the double digits for points scored.

St. Edward’s came out swinging in the first half going up 42-29 at the break. However, UTPB would make it close in the second half, outscoring the Hilltoppers 41-36.

Debbie Taylor, director of athletics, was one of many St. Edward’s supporters in attendance. Taylor called the victory well earned.

“It means a lot. These guys have worked so hard to get where they are,” she said. “They are very selfless, they are very much a team.”

The basketball team now turn their attention to playing St. Mary’s in San Antonio for the conference title.

“It’s going to take a very good effort tomorrow for sure,” Cook said. “They are terrific. They don’t lose here.”

However, No. 1 St. Mary’s almost lost their semifinal game Friday. The team was down twenty points in the second half against No. 4 University of Arkansas- Fort Smith. The Rattlers mounted an incredible comeback and would hit a buzzer beater from 30 feet out to force overtime.

In overtime, they would get the best of Arkansas, winning 90-88.

This will be the third contest between theses two teams of the season, with each team winning easily on their home court.

“I think it’s going to be a hard fought game, and of course I’d like to see the Toppers on top,” Taylor said.

In a preseason poll by the conference’s coaches and sports information directors, St. Edward’s was picked to finish ninth in the conference.

“What I want to say I can’t say,” Cook said jokingly. “So I will just say that we are not ninth, we’re in the finals. So everyone that picked us ninth, we’re not there.”

Former St. Edward’s basketball player James Stukes is happy to see his old team successful.

“It’s great to see how far they’ve (come) since they were freshman … it’s great for the program to see that they are growing and everything,” Stukes said.

The winner of the Heartland Conference will be in good shape to advance to the 2015 NCAA Division II Men’s Basketball Championship. The selection show is Sunday night at 9 p.m. But to get there, one team must win the conference championship.

“We’re pumped, we’ve got to play 40 minutes of good basketball (to) go to the NCAA tournament,” Cook said.