KATY, Texas – Texas A&M-Corpus Christi needed a miracle. Trailing by two with 14 seconds to play and Sam Houston State shooting two free throws, the outlook was dire for the Islanders. But, after a pair of missed free throws, senior Hameed Ali walked the ball up the court and pulled up behind the arc to bury the game-winner as the Islanders advanced to the Southland Conference Championship for the first time since 2007.
"When it was all said and done we had some guys who really stepped up big," Head Coach Willis Wilson said. "There was no shot bigger than the one Hameed made. Just a big, big shot and I think it just goes back to preparing in the off-season."
Much like the matchup two weeks ago in Huntsville, the Islanders needed a second half comeback to best the Bearkats and advance to Saturday's championship game.
Sam Houston State used a 13-4 run over the final seven minutes of the first half to open up a 40-28 halftime advantage. The Bearkats shot 53-percent from the field in the opening half while the Blue and Green missed its final nine shots from the floor in the opening 20 minutes.
Jelani Currie opened the second half by connecting on three straight trips down the court, scoring the Islanders' first seven points. A&M-Corpus Christi hit its first five shots from the floor, but the Islanders still trailed by 13 at the under-16 media timeout.
The comeback began in earnest at the 14:24 mark, as Hameed Ali rolled down the lane to finish with the right hand and earning an and-1 opportunity. Ali completed the 3-point play to spark a 12-0 run, capped with an Ehab Amin lay in to cut the Bearkat lead to just one at 53-52.
With just over nine minutes to play, sophomore Joe Kilgore fought though contact to finish at the rim, giving the Islanders their first lead of the game at 56-55. But, 16 seconds later, Rashawn Thomas picked up his fifth foul. The big man finished with 13 points and seven rebounds in 23 minutes.
The damage was doubled just 90 seconds later as Bryce Douvier picked up his fifth foul as well.
With both Thomas and Douvier sitting on the bench for the final 7:37, the Islanders would have to engineer a late-game comeback without two of their top scorers. The Blue and Green trailed 72-70 with just two minutes to play, but out scored the Bearkats by five down the stretch.
Trailing by two with 14 seconds to play, Ali walked the ball up the court after a pair of missed free throws and pulled up at the arc, burying a go-ahead three with just five seconds to play.
The Blue and Green forced a turnover on the ensuing inbound and iced the game away with a pair of free throws for the 79-76 victory.
"No offense to Nicholls State, because they're a good team," Ali said. "But I was rooting for Sam Houston. They knocked us out the last couple of years so I wanted this game. To be in a spot like that, that's what you dream of."
SEND-OFF PEP RALLY
Fans in Katy are invited to the official Send-Off Pep Rally at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the Hilton Garden Inn as the Islanders head back to the Merrell Center for the Southland Conference Championship Game.