By Reily Chestnut
Assistant Sports Director
When another season of Bobcat basketball rolled around back in November, there was a buzz in the air around Head Coach Danny Kaspar’s Bobcats. Riding a 2016-17 basketball team that had a fine mix of experienced and fresh talent, Kaspar coached the program to its best season since the late 90s, culminating in a SBC championship game appearance that left the program a few possessions away from their third NCAA tournament appearance ever. In 2017 they finished with 22 wins, their highest season total since their 25-win NCAA qualifier squad in 1994. But let’s get a few things straight about this team’s expectations heading into the 2017-18 campaign.
Clearing the Clout
They weren’t going to be the same team that they would’ve been in 2016-17. For one, they lost three world class Bobcat seniors named Kavin Gilder-Tilbury, Ojai Black and Bobby Conley. Those ‘cats brought the ultimate understanding of Texas State’s identity. Black was a bonafide leader with the best floor general instincts Coach Kaspar had in his time at Texas State while Gilder-Tilbury and Conley proved to be the veteran scorers that knew how to go and compete to find their shots in all the right places and commanded that respect in opponents’ scouting reports. Simply put, the experience these players brought to the table each night was never going to be easy to replace. But that was obvious in how up and down this past season was for the Bobcats.
Season of Streaky Play
Bobcat basketball had to endure the real inconsistencies that come with a roster that didn’t have a player with at least two seasons of D-I experience. The Bobcats were one of only two programs in the country to fit that mold. The biggest streaks were the six game winning streak that inspired thoughts that this team might still be as much of a contender in the Sun Belt as the previous year. Then the hope continued to diminish each week as the team suffered through a nine game losing streak to end the regular season. Really when you look back at this year there is one consistency: close finishes. During conference play, Texas State played in 13 games that ended up being decided by five points or less. When a young team is constantly put through high pressure situations that demand they make plays they just aren’t experienced enough to make yet, then you end up with that bad streak and a hard lesson. However, there is something to take away from all this… pressure makes diamonds.
Feeling the Future for Texas State Men’s Basketball
In the end, a 15-18 record won’t reflect on the potential for some players coming back next year to become game breakers. Starting guard Nijal Pearson knew after scoring 477 points to set a program record for freshman that expectations were going to be high for him. Did he deliver like we’d hoped… no, in terms of offensive efficiency since he shot 39.4 percent overall while averaging 15.2 points each game. But, he can impact the game in so many ways that you have to look beyond just the shooting numbers. He led the team in rebounding for the second straight year while also leading them in steals. All the while playing out of his guard position, starting every game at small forward. Simply put, his maturation process after enduring this up and down season will make him a danger when he goes to battle next year. But he can’t do it by himself and luckily we saw that he won’t have to worry about carrying the load.
First time Bobcats Alex Peacock and Tre Nottingham proved just how ready they were to make the jump from JUCO ball to the D-I level. Both started their debut season in San Marcos in a position you’d expect for JUCO transfers… off the bench learning how to play against a higher level of competition. Peacock got the call to start first when sophomore forward Nedeljko Prijovic went down with early knee issues. Peacock then finished one assist shy of the first triple-double in program history in that win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. He continued to endear himself to Bobcat fans when he hit two game winners over the six game winning streak. Next we have Nottingham, a shooter that started his season struggling to hit most of his attempts. But when starting point guard Marlin Davis tore his ACL, the Bobcats needed a hero. Nottingham then scored in double figures in 10 of the team’s final 16 games, including two 20+ point games against UTA and Georgia Southern to show us how dangerous he can be when his outside shot is falling. But that is the key for both Nottingham and Peacock, can they find their shots consistently alongside Pearson? With Davis facilitating and a new forward taking over at center for graduating senior Immanuel King, I think that could become more likely.
The Bobcats endured a tough season that will leave many enthusiasts unsatisfied after the progress made in 2017. But that progress can easily kick back in the right direction now that this team will have more experience among players who proved that this squad is not without individual talent to build off for the coming season ahead.
Featured image by Nicole Wolf.