By Derek Hill
Published March 5, 2014
Thursday was Senior Night for the Lady Lions and Lions and we celebrated the careers of Lady Lion senior Destyni Howard and Lions’ seniors Corey Copeland, Bo Franklin, Xavier McClish, and Jake Toupal.
The Lady Lions were looking for the sweep of the Rogers State Lady Hillcats. The Lady Lions jumped out to a 12 point lead early (20-8), but the Lady Hillcats would cut that down to 5 before Sydney Franklin knocked down a 3 pointer with 14 seconds left to give UAFS a 30-22 lead at the half. Rogers State took their first lead of the game (40-39) with 12:26 left to play in the second half but Justyne Huber and Howard helped UAFS respond each time in a back-and-forth finish. Howard knocked down two 3 pointers late in the second half to allow UAFS to take the lead for good and finish off Rogers State 75-71. Justyne Huber led the Lady Lions with 19 points and 9 rebounds. Brittany Holbert chipped in with 10 points and senior Destyni Howard just missed a double-double as she scored 10 points and grabbed 9 rebounds. Lady Lions (9-17, 9-11) finished their season with a 2 game winning streak.
In the first meeting between UAFS and Rogers State, the Lions pulled out a victory in a tightly contested Heartland Conference showdown. Thursday’s game was no different. The game started as many have over senior Jake Toupal’s four year career at UAFS: a Toupal 3 pointer. Rogers State would answer with a 9-0 run to take a 9-3 lead over the Lions. UAFS answered right back with a 7-0 run giving them a one point advantage (10-9). The lead would go back and forth the entire first half. With Rogers State leading by 2 (35-33) with 8 seconds left, Seth Youngblood would give the Lions the last lead of the first half. Youngblood took the ball the length of the court and converted a three point play giving the Lions a 36-35 halftime lead. The second half was just as close as the first. Rogers held the lead for a large part of the second half but a Blake Branham 3 pointer tied the game at 54 with 10:56 left to play. Jake Toupal knocked down a 3 with 6:41 left to give the Lions a 1 point lead (67-66). The Lions would keep the lead for the next 6 minutes but that’s when things got more interesting. Rogers State, down by 4 with the clock running down, turned to their seniors for a last second lift. Jerry Dixon drove the lane and finished while getting fouled to cut the Lions’ lead to 2. Dixon would then miss the free throw attempt and Hillcat Deran Banton got the offensive rebound and kicked it to Dixon for an open 3 point attempt, which was just off the mark. Hillcat senior Robinson Opong then collected the offensive rebound and scored, sending the game to overtime.
In overtime, Youngblood started things off with another 3 pointer. LJ Ross completed a 3 point play and Alex Cooper knocked down a three and the Lions took their biggest lead of the game (100-91). But the Hillcats responded. Deran Banton scored a layup then got a steal and a dunk to cut the Lions’ lead to 5 (100-95). After Hillcat senior Damien Hooks cut the lead to 3 with two free throws, Lions forward LJ Ross came up big again with another inside shot. With the lead at 5, Hillcats once again turned to senior Jerry Dixon. Dixon scored on another drive to the basket, cutting the lead back to 3. After the Lions missed two free throws, the Hillcats had one last chance and again they would go to Dixon. Dixon knocked down a 3 with 5 seconds left which would seem to be sending the game to a second overtime. But UAFS senior Jake Toupal had no interest in going to a second overtime. Toupal took the ball the length of the floor, pulled up for a 3 pointer, and made the shot plus the foul—a rare four point play! Fans rushed the court but had to be removed so Toupal could shoot his free throw, which he made. The Lions outlasted the Hillcats 106-102 in overtime and repeat as Heartland Conference regular season champions! Jake Toupal tied a career-high with 26 points. Freshmen Seth Youngblood and Alex Cooper finished with 17 and 16 points respectively. Junior forward Miha Glavas finished with 12 points and senior Bo Franklin just missed a double-double as he scored 9 points and grabbed 9 rebounds.
Toupal was named Heartland Conference Player of the Week for his performance.
Here is the video of Toupal’s game winning 4 point play: UAFS wins Championship on last second shot by Sr. Jake Toupal
Thanks to St. Mary’s double overtime victory over TAMIU, the Lions will host the Heartland Conference Tournament for the second consecutive year. Lions play UTPB on Friday, March 7 at 5:30 pm. The winner of that game and the winner of the St. Mary’s-TAMIU game (7:30pm on Friday) will play for the Heartland Conference Championship on Saturday, March 8 at 4pm.