Texas A&M University-Commerce men’s basketball head coach Sam Walker has seen his share of memorable victories on the Lion sidelines. But Wednesday night at the Field House will go down as one of the most memorable as Walker saw his Lions claw back from a double-digit first half deficit to topple reigning Lone Star Conference champion Midwestern State 74-66, giving him his 202nd career victory and surpassing Jim Gudger as the all-time winningest coach in A&M-Commerce history.
“This night was fun, but it was mostly due to the players on this team and from teams past,” Walker said. “They were the ones that were out there battling every night, and I was just along for the ride. So this night was more for them and what they did for the program. But let’s not overlook the fact that this was a huge conference win for this team against a very good Midwestern State team, and a win our team needed right now.”
In his 13 seasons as the head coach of the Lions, Walker has compiled a 202-152 record, including an 83-72 mark in LSC play. He became the second Lion coach across all sports to record his 200 wins in the 92-62 trouncing of Dallas Baptist on December 15, 2012, and his .571 winning percentage is the fourth-best among all Lion basketball coaches.
Senior Preston Whitley, who has been a key figure for the past four seasons for Walker’s teams, did everything he could to help ensure the victory, scoring a career-high 28 points off 9-of-14 shooting, including going a crucial 6-for-6 from the free throw line. Stefon Carson came up big as well with 14 points and five assists while Tyrie Wooten added 13 points, four rebounds and four assists on the night.
Jason Smith posted seven points and six rebounds with a game-high three steals while Andrew Davis added five points and six rebounds.
The night didn’t start off the way the Lions would have hoped as they quickly fell behind 22-10 behind the fast-paced Midwestern State offensive attack. But after weathering the initial Mustang stampede, the Lions slowly began to chip away at the deficit, pulling to within one at 34-33 at the half.
That momentum carried into the second as the Lions scored the first 10 points of the second half as A&M-Commerce found itself holding on to a 43-34 advantage. The run proved to be the spark A&M-Commerce needed as the Lions had outscored the Mustangs 17-2 over a seven-minute span, encompassing the final three and a half minutes of the first half and the first three and a half minutes of the second.
Midwestern State has become accustomed to battling from behind in the second half this season and Wednesday night’s game was no different. The Mustangs began to make their charge at the Field House, tying the game on five different occasions down the stretch, the last of which came at 65-65 with 2:35 remaining. But clutch baskets from the Lions in the waning minutes prevented Midwestern State from ever reclaiming the lead as A&M-Commerce was finally able to topple one of its biggest nemesis.
With the A&M-Commerce crowd on its feet, the Lions took turns cutting down the net at the north end of the Field House, giving each player on the team a momento of the historic night in Lion basketball history. The final cut was saved for Walker who humbly held up the net to acknowledge the fans who continued to stand and applaud.
The historic victory for Walker almost overshadowed what a big win this was for A&M-Commerce in the LSC standings. The victory snapped a two-game losing skid, but more importantly snapped a 10-game losing streak to Midwestern State dating back to the 2004-05 season, as well as handing the Mustangs their first conference loss of the season.
Midwestern State was led by Monzaigo Williams’ 22 points with six assists while Corbin Thomas notched an impressive double-double, finishing with 18 points and 14 rebounds for the Mustangs. Cam Adderley notched 15 points and seven rebounds with Derek Kaster grabbing 10 rebounds to complement his five points.