MOMENT #11: MAGICAL FINAL WEEK PROPELS LIONS INTO LSC TOURNAMENT
The 2011-12 A&M-Commerce athletic season was filled with a number of impressive performance and memorable highlights achieved by the Lion student-athletes. To close out the athletic season, LionAthletics.com is looking back at the top-15 moments of the year, voted on by athletic administrators, media members and Lion fans. The moments will be revealed on Mondays and Thursdays, leading into the start of the 2012-13 A&M-Commerce athletic season.
COMMERCE, Texas – Our list of the top-15 moments of the 2011-12 A&M-Commerce athletic season includes a handful of memorable games and performances, but no other selection gripped the attention of Lion fans for an entire week as did Moment #11.
With one week remaining in the regular season, the A&M-Commerce men's basketball team had battled injuries, heartbreaking losses and a bucketful of bad luck, sitting at 7-16 overall and 2-13 in Lone Star Conference play. Entering the final three games of the regular season, the Lions sat in 10th place in the conference standings with their postseason hopes looking all but dead.
"We knew our backs were against the wall, but we believed in our team," said senior guard Brad Hambrick. "Others had given up on us, and we wanted to prove them wrong. We knew we had a good team and wanted to close out the year with a bang."
"Those last three games were essentially playoff games for us," said head coach Sam Walker. "We had to run the table to even have a chance to make the tournament, so we knew that one loss and our season was over. But with that much pressure, our team showed how well they could handle adversity and I think was a great testament to the toughness this team had."
With the top eight seeds qualifying for the Lone Star Conference tournament in Allen, the Lions began their week-long postseason quest, facing a pair of daunting statistics in addition to the three-team slate. A&M-Commerce had not won a road conference game to that point, but had to face Eastern New Mexico and Abilene Christian on the road. The Lions also had not beaten a team from the state of Texas, and had a pair of those as well taking on the Wildcats and Angelo State.
A&M-Commerce made the long bus trip to Portales, N.M. and trailing by four in the final minute rallied to tie the game, then survived in a 67-62 overtime victory against the Greyhounds, giving the Lions their first road conference win of the season. Four days later, A&M-Commerce was back on the road at Abilene Christian and rallied late in the game before holding off the Wildcats for a 75-72 victory, marking their first win against a Lone Star state team on the year.
Those victories set up a thrilling win-or-go-home play-in game against Angelo State on Senior Night at the Field House. Abilene Christian had lost to Tarleton State earlier in the day, meaning the winner of the Lions and Rams would clinch the eight seed in the conference tournament while the loser would be on the outside looking in.
With an electric atmosphere hovering in the Field House, A&M-Commerce fed off the energy and built a commanding 51-30 lead with 19:35 remaining in the game. But Angelo State mounted a furious rally, pulling to within one at 71-70 with 3:31 to play.
With the season hanging in the balance, the Lions regrouped in the final three minutes, going a perfect eight-for-eight from the free throw line down the stretch while a pair of steals from Hambrick and a big defensive effort thwarted the Ram rally as the Lions held on for an 83-78 victory.
The Lions, left for dead just a week earlier, had clawed their way into the Lone Star Conference Championships in Allen, extending their streak of consecutive LSC tournaments to seven-straight and eight of the last nine, both of which are the longest in the conference. It also sent the senior trio of Hambrick, Desmond King and LaBree Sledge out in style in their final game on the Field House hardwood.
A&M-Commerce would meet up with top-seeded and nationally-ranked Midwestern State in the LSC quarterfinals at the Allen Event Center and gave the Mustangs all they could handle early on, taking a 26-19 lead into halftime and holding a 34-27 advantage with 12:35 remaining in the game. But the eventual Elite Eight participant wore down the Lions down the stretch, ending A&M-Commerce's magical late season run with a 64-52 defeat. But the loss did little to diminish the incredible final week run the Lions put together as coach Walker and his Lions turn their sights toward the future.
A&M-Commerce Top-15 Moments Countdown Schedule
Moment #1 - Thursday, August 2
Moment #2 - Monday, July 30
Moment #3 - Thursday, July 26
Moment #4 - Monday, July 23
Moment #5 - Thursday, July 19
Moment #6 - Monday, July 16
Moment #7 - Thursday, July 12
Moment #8 - Monday, July 9
Moment #9 - Thursday, July 5
Moment #10 - Monday, July 2
Moment #11 - Men's Basketball Wins Final Three Games to Qualify for LSC Tournament
Moment #12 - Football Takes to the Turf at Cowboys Stadium
Moment #13 - Pair of Men's Golfers Capture Individual Tournament Titles
Moment #14 - Women's Track and Field Sets Three School Records
Moment #15 - Women's Basketball Upsets Angelo State 64-61 in Season Finale