Cowboys Advance With Thrilling 109-103 Win Over LaGrange

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ABILENE, Texas – Hardin-Simmons' men's basketball team advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament with a thrilling 109-103 win over LaGrange on Friday night at a rowdy Mabee Athletic Complex.

The game was a classic that went back and forth throughout the contest and featured 11 ties and 15 lead changes. Both teams came out on fire. Caleb Spoon hit six 3-pointers in the first 9:46 of the game and his final one gave the Cowboys a 29-27 lead as the Panthers had answered the early barrage.

The teams were tied at 44 with 3:40 to play in the first half when the Cowboys scored eight straight points, including five by Christian O'Neal. HSU eventually led 58-49 at halftime.

HSU maintained the lead for most of the second half until Jamison McCray's free throw gave LaGrange a 77-76 lead with 11:01 play, but this time the Cowboys had the answer and pushed the lead back out to 87-77.

The Panthers battled back again and took a 98-96 lead on two Alex Bonner free throws with 2:02 to play. HSU took the lead back with 1:41 to play when Ryan Leiss hit the biggest shot of his career, a 3-pointer to make it 99-98 and Justyn Olson answered with a floater in the paint for 100-99 lead. Duane Hopper hit a pair of free throws to give the Cowboys the lead back at 101-100 with 1:04 to play.

Justin Jones did what he has done better than almost anyone in Division III history, when he blocked Bonner's layup attempt and snagged the rebounds. Nathaniel Jack then had his 12thoffensive rebound of the game off an O'Neal miss and put the ball back in for his 24th point of the night. Then O'Neal stole the inbounds and scored and just like that HSU had a 105-100 lead with :16 to play.

O'Neal hit four free throws in the final :11 to hold off the Panthers.

Justin Olson led a balanced LaGrange attack with 29 points, six assists, six steals and six rebounds. Alex Bonner added 18 and Drew Vanderbrook scored 16 points.

HSU had six players in double figures. Jack led the way with 24 points, 18 rebounds, seven assists and five steals. O'Neal added 19 points, Spoon had 18, Duane Hopper added 17 points, Justin Jones had 15 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and six blocked shots. Dashun Dixon added 11 points.

HSU is 23-6 on the year, which ties the 1992-93 team for the school record for most wins in a season. LaGrange closes its season with an 18-11 mark. HSU will host Emory at 7 p.m. Saturday for the right to advance to the round of 16. Emory beat Texas Lutheran 82-69.
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