MSU Men rallies from 22 back to beat Rollins

MSU Men rallies from 22 back to beat Rollins

Midwestern State overcame a 22-point with 13 1/2 minutes to play to beat Rollins (Fla.) 81-79 in the opening game of the Rollins Las Vegas Classic Monday afternoon at the Doolittle Community Center.

"It took guts and a lot of effort to finish this comeback," MSU coach Nelson Haggerty said. "This is a young team that is learning how to win. We took a big step today, but will have to stay with it against another quality opponent tomorrow."

Rollins shot lights out in the first half led by junior guard Eric Casteneda, who fired 6-of-8 shots with five 3-pointers for 19 points. He would misfire on three straight free throws 2.5 seconds before halftime which would have given the Tars a 20-point advantage.

As a team, Rollins 64.5 percent from the floor going 6-for-11 from the arc in a decisive first half. The Tars also dominated the glass 19-7 while working a combination of zones to keep MSU off-balance.

"They were extremely too comfortable in their offense in the first half. They were beating any way you could beat us" Haggerty said. "The guys were already buzzing before (the coaches) got to the locker room at halftime. They were challenged and it says a lot about how we were able to make them so uncomfortable in the second half."

Rollins remained on a roll to start the second half as Casteneda hit a 3-pointer and Sam Philpott slipped screens for consecutive layups before Deion Clark hit a pair of free throws to give the Tars the largest lead of the game at 63-41 with 13:34 to play.

The trio combined for 68 of Rollins' 79 points with Philpott leading the way with 25 points followed by Casteneda with 23 and Clark with 20.

But it was all about the Mustangs from that point forward.

Midwestern State outscored the Tars 38-16 the rest of the way hitting 15 of their last 23 shots (65.2 percent) while frustrating Rollins into 5-of-17 shooting (29.4 percent) with seven turnovers.

The Mustangs started the comeback by reeling off a 10-0 run culminating with a thunderous dunk on a break and another driving layup by Neel to pull MSU back to within 63-51 with 11:14 to play.

Rollins made just enough shots to maintain a double-digit lead before eventually succumbing to MSU's relentless pressure down the stretch.

"That's what this team has to do," Haggerty said. "We have to wear you down. We were able to do that and finish. Everyone made big plays but the pressure of Devante Pullum and Charles Callier were big helps today."

Sophomore Logan Hicks was 0-for-7 from the arc before capping a 9-2 run with a triple from the right wing to pull the Mustangs to within 76-71 with 2:01 to play.

After Clark hit a pair of free throws to push the Rollins lead back to seven, Hicks drilled a second 3-ball from the right corner to get the Mustangs to within four at 78-74 with 52 seconds to go.

Casteneda misfired on a front of a bonus allowing Pullum to drive the floor and hit Neel for a transition layup to get the Mustangs within 78-76 with 30 seconds to play.

The Mustangs tried Casteneda on the next Rollins possession and hit 1-of-2 shots to give the Tars a 79-76 lead with 25 seconds to play.

After a scramble on a rebound, Pullum buried a triple from the left wing to knot the game at 79-79.

Neel stole the inbounds pass and hit a tough runner in the lane to give MSU its first lead since the first minute of the game.

The senior from Cincinnati scored 18 of his team-high 24 points in the second half, while Pullum chipped in 15 points and four assists.

Senior forward Joshua Huntley added 14 points on 5-of-5 shooting from the field and went 4-of-4 from the charity stripe, while Hicks had 10.

Midwestern State, who also overcame a 20-point deficit to beat UT Permian Basin last season, snapped a five-game skid to improve to 3-8 on the season.

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