By Kristie Rieken
Saturday, March 12, 2011; 6:44 PM
KATY, Texas -- Freshman forward Jeromie Hill scored 25 points to lead Texas-San Antonio to a 75-72 win over McNeese State on Saturday in the Southland Conference championship, giving the Roadrunners an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament.
The Roadrunners were up by nine before McNeese State responded with a 12-5 run that included a pair of 3-pointers to make it 74-72 with 27 seconds remaining.
Sei Paye missed a pair of free throws, giving McNeese State another chance. C.J. Collins missed a 3-pointer and got his own rebound, but stepped out of bounds to give the Roadrunners the ball.
Melvin Johnson III, who finished with 14 points, made one free throw to push the lead to 75-72 and Patrick Richard's desperation heave at the buzzer bounced off the rim.
Top-seeded McNeese State (21-11) was led by Diego Kapelan's 20 points.
Texas-San Antonio, the No. 7 seed, led for the entire second half and held on for the win over the regular season champion McNeese State to return to the tournament for the first time since 2004 and the fourth time overall.
The 6-foot-8 Hill, the Southland Conference freshman of the year, shot 10 of 14 and a perfect 4 for 4 from 3-point range to help Texas-San Antonio (19-13) win its fifth straight game.
Hill's performance helped offset a slower than normal day by Devin Gibson, who had 26 points in the semifinals. Gibson, who was chosen the tournament's most valuable player, had just two points at halftime but finished with 15 points on 4 of 10 shooting.
He had to leave for a few minutes early in the first half after taking a hard spill to the court and hitting his face in the same area where he has a cut from an injury late in the regular season. He remained on the court for a couple of minutes after the injury and was looked at by trainers on the bench before returning.
Richard finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds for McNeese State and Stephan Martin added 16 points.
Texas-San Antonio led by seven points with about 10 minutes remaining before McNeese State went on a 10-5 run to get within 53-51 with just under seven to play. The Roadrunners used a 7-2 spurt after that to extend their lead to 60-53 with 4 1/2 left.
McNeese State scored five straight points to get within two before Texas-San Antonio used a 9-2 run to take the big lead.
McNeese State beat Texas State to reach the championship game and Texas-San Antonio outlasted third seed Sam Houston State.
Texas-San Antonio led 30-28 at halftime.