Smith’s buzzer beater gives SLU dramatic 78-75 win at A&M-Corpus Christi

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CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Sophomore Byron Smith’s only field goal of the game couldn’t have come at better time as he drilled a corner three-pointer with less than a second left to propel the Southeastern Louisiana men’s basketball team to a huge road win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, 78-75, Monday night at the American Bank Center.

The Lions (7-13, 5-6 Southland), playing without leading scorer Keon Clergeot due to an ankle injury, were led by sophomore Nick Caldwell with 19 points on 8-for-13 shooting. The Geismar, Louisiana native also was 3-for-5 from the three-point line including two game-tying threes with under two minutes to go.

“Nick really got hot at the end,” said SLU head coach David Kiefer. “But he took good shots all night in rhythm and when he shoots in rhythm he’s a really good shooter. But I’m just really proud of him tonight.”

Sophomore Isiah Kirby had 16 points on 7-for-10 shooting, including six assists while junior Gus Okafor had 13 points and nine rebounds just missing his third straight double-double. Junior Joe Kasperzyk aided the Lions with 11 points.

SLU finished the game with a season-high 12 three-pointers (12-for-26) as seven different players hit from long range led by Okafor and Caldwell with three each.

The Islanders (4-16, 1-10 Southland) were led by Jalen White with 20 points and eight rebounds. Laz Keys added 19 points and 11 rebounds for his first double-double of the season.

Southeastern appeared to be in control early as they jumped out to a 21-8 lead with 12:34 left in the first half. The Islanders rallied to cut it to one, 27-26, with 6:54 remaining in the half as SLU took a 41-40 halftime lead.

In the second half, the Lions regained a two-possession lead of 49-44 with 17:14. The Islanders took the lead, 50-49, midway through the second half as the two teams battled step for step.

A&M-Corpus Christ appeared to be in control of the game as they led, 70-65, at the final media timeout. But Kiefer rallied the troops.

“We wanted to make sure we stayed connected and have poise,” said Kiefer. “We just wanted to keep getting stops and do the little things right and we were able to do that down the stretch.”

Following the timeout, Caldwell scored eight of the next 10 for SLU including tying the game at 75-75 with 49 seconds. The Lions got the stop and the rebound was cleared on the ensuing possession by Smith with 21 seconds remaining. SLU had one chance with the shot clock off to avoid overtime.

Sophomore point guard Jondarius Warren, starting for the injured Clergeot, had the game in his hands on the final possession as he ran the clock down before penetrating to the elbow and drawing a double team. Warren found Smith, out of Palatka, Florida, all alone in the corner for the three-pointer right in front of the Lions’ bench with .7 seconds left on the clock to clinch the win.

“We wanted to put the ball in Jondarius’s hands,” said Kiefer. “We felt like we had a pretty good matchup where we felt like he could create for someone and he was able to find Byron in the corner and then Byron stepped up.”

The victory was the fifth straight for the Lions over A&M-Corpus Christi.

Next up, Southeastern will return home to face in-state rival McNeese (8-11, 2-8 Southland) Wednesday night at 7 p.m. in the University Center. The Lions defeated McNeese, 92-88, on the road back on Jan. 20.

SLU 78 (7-13, 5-6 Southland)
Ifejeh 1-4, 3-5 5, Warren 2-4, 0-0 5, Kirby 7-10, 0-0 16, Kasperzyk 4-11, 2-3 11, Okafor 5-12, 0-1 13, Strange 1-1, 0-0 3, Caldwell 8-13, 0-0 19, Kemp 0-0, 0-0 0, Romanov 1-1, 0-0 2, Brackman 0-0, 0-0 0, Smith 1-4, 1-2, 4
Totals 30-60, 6-11 78

AMCC 75 (4-16, 1-10 Southland)
Keys 8-13, 3-4 19, Smith, M 3-10, 3-3 9, Fryer 3-4, 3-4 10, White 4-7, 10-10 20, Bertain 2-5, 0-0 6, Coates 0-0, 0-0 0, Hairston 3-9, 0-0 8, Francois 0-0, 0-0 0, Smith, P 1-1, 0-0 3
Totals 24-549, 19-21 75

Halftime – SLU 41, AMCC 40. 3-point goals – SLU 12-26 (Okafor 3-7, Caldwell 3-5, Kirby 2-5, Strange 1-1, Warren 1-2, Smith 1-2, Kasperzyk 1-4 ) AMCC 8-18 (White 2-3, Bertain 2-4, Hairston 2-6, Fryer 1-1, Smith, P 1-1, Smith, M 0-3). Technical Fouls SLU – None. AMCC – None. Fouled Out – SLU None. AMCC None. Rebounds – SLU 30, AMCC 30 (SLU – Okafor 9), (AMCC – Keys 11). Assists – SLU 16 (Kirby – 6), AMCC 17 (Fryer, Hairston, White 3). Total Fouls – SLU 18, AMCC 14

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