GEORGETOWN, Texas – With sleight of hand, Southwestern University Pirates point guard Kyle Howard made a 20-point deficit disappear, leading the men's basketball team to an 88-80 victory over the Hardin-Simmons University Cowboys.
The Pirates opened the contest sluggishly, as if still recovering from a tryptophan-induced haze from Thursday's thanksgiving dinner.
Hardin-Simmons capitalized, establishing Neal Chambliss on the low block inside, getting two early buckets and the foundation of an inside-out attack that pushed the Cowboys to a 39-19 lead with a little under six minutes remaining in the first half.
Chambliss was overpowering, scoring 11 points on 5-for-6 shooting with two assists before the break. More importantly, the attention he drew triggered Hardin-Simmons' ball movement, swinging the ball around to open shooters to hit 5-for-12 (41.7 percent) from deep in the first half as the Cowboys assisted on 12 of their 18 first-half field goals.
The lack of stops created a negative feedback loop for Southwestern, forcing the offense to go against a set defense every possession, grinding the Pirates' sets down to a halt.
Brandon Alexander provided the Pirates with one of the few sources of early offense, grinding out 10 points on 3-for-5 shooting with four free throws in five attempts, doing most of his work in the low and mid-post.
Howard re-entered the game for his second stint of action with less than five minutes remaining in the first half and the Pirates trailing 39-22 and quickly went to work.
The Pirates' senior guard used Hardin-Simmons' momentum against itself, using a bevy of feints and spins to wrong foot the entire defense and create passing and driving lanes for himself. A quick stop and turn of the shoulders suggested pass but a quick pivot set Howard up for a drive.
In a four-minute stretch, Howard found Joel Martinez for a layup, drew two fouls on Chambliss and nailed all four free throws, found Luke Hicks for a 3-pointer, and ended the half with another pair of free throws to bring the Pirates to within striking distance, trailing 42-35.
Howard's aggressiveness continued in the second half with a quick pair of free throws, followed by another drawn foul on Chambliss, sending him to the bench with four less than four minutes into the half.
Without Chambliss, the Cowboys' offense lost some of its structure, removing the open looks they were getting early, shooting just 37.9 percent in the second half, including 1-for-13 from three, after hitting 54.5 percent from the field in the first.
The Pirates capitalized, getting 11 second-half points from Hicks and eight from Trenton Garrett, who punctuated the Pirates' momentum with a monstrous block.
Hardin-Simmons regrouped behind the brilliant individual play from point guard Chris Barrett, who scored all 26 of his points in the second half. Barrett got into the paint at will, hitting 6-for-9 from the field and 14-for-16 from the free-throw line to carry the Cowboys. But Andrew Puhl made several key shots down the stretch to keep Hardin-Simmons at bay, preserving the victory.
Five Pirates scored in double figures, including four of the five starters, led by Alexander's 16 points and eight rebounds and Hicks had 14 points and six rebounds. Puhl and Garrett, each big in the second half, finished with 13 each. Howard had 11 points, hitting 11-for-14 from the free-throw line.
For the game, the Pirates shot 48.9 percent from the field and 38-for-51 from free-throw line. With the win, Southwestern improves to 3-2 on the season. The Pirates will travel to play McMurry on Tuesday, Dec. 3 at 7:30 p.m.