ABILENE, Texas - Hardin-Simmons turned back LaGrange 109-103 in the first round of the NCAA Division III tournament Friday night.
"I'm so proud of the way these young men played tonight," Coach Kendal Wallace said. "Our players left it all on the floor as all student-athletes should do. We competed until the last second. Hats off to Hardin-Simmons as they are a great basketball team. I can't say enough about my staff and players working together diligently throughout the season to get better."
The game marked the final one for seniors Jacob Gaetanos, Tyler Langston, Justyn Olson, and Drew Vanderbrook. This group of seniors were a part of 73 victories; the most for a senior class since the school joined the NCAA. They were on three USA South Tournament championship teams and made four straight trips to the NCAA tournament.
"What a remarkable run these four seniors have had," said Wallace. "They have created and left a legacy for seasons to come. We came up short on a few rebounds, free throws, and turnovers. I am extremely proud to have coached this group."
Olson had a game-high 29 points, scoring nine of the Panthers' final 11 points. Vanderbrook was 4-of-6 from 3-point range and finished with 16 points.
Nathaniel Jack led Hardin-Simmons with a double-double of 24 points and 18 rebounds. The Cowboys had six players in double figures.
The Panthers (18-11) battled the Cowboys (23-6) down to the wire.
Trailing 57-48 at halftime, LaGrange chipped away at the deficit. Vanderbrook's 3-pointer tied the game at 74. After Bonner's jumper evened the score again, McCray made the second of two free throws to put the Panthers up 77-76. It was their first lead since the 10:55 mark of the first half.
The Cowboys answered with an 11-0 run to build their biggest lead, 87-77, with 7:47 left. Once again, the Panthers rallied.
Olson scored three straight baskets to tie the game. Vanderbrook made the steal at the defensive end, then fed Olson at the other end, who layed it in to make it 96-96 with 2:25 left.
Bonner hit a pair of free throws to put the Panthers up 98-96. Olson's fadeaway jumper gave LC its last lead, 100-99, with 1:20 left.
Duane Hopper's two free throws put the Cowboys back up 101-100. They added two quick baskets and a pair of free throws to build a 107-100 lead.
Olson's final collegiate 3-pointer made it 107-103. But the Cowboys iced the game with two more free throws for the 109-103 final.