Darren Houliston had never made a game-winning shot.
The UT Tyler senior picked a good time for his first.
Houliston drained a 3-pointer with no time left to give the Patriots a thrilling 74-71 triumph over Mississippi College on Saturday at the Herrington Patriot Center.
The desperation shot helped the Patriots (14-5, 9-4) maintain their first-place position in the American Southwest Conference East Division with three games left in a six-game home stand. Next up for UT Tyler will be a showdown with second-place UT Dallas (13-6, 8-5) on Thursday.
“It’s a pretty surreal feeling,” said Houliston, who completed the afternoon with seven points, four rebounds and an assist. “I’ve always imagined having the celebration and feeling how you would feel. It’s just really nice to get this big conference win. It couldn’t have come at a better time.”
The game represented the second half a doubleheader featuring the schools. The UT Tyler women bounced back from Thursday’s loss to No. 19 Louisiana College with a 65-54 win against Mississippi College in the opener.
The men’s game featured much more drama down the stretch.
“We had to have that,” Patriots coach Kenny Bizot said of the win. “The East is unbelievable this year. You could be in first one day and fourth the next. We knew we had to hold our serve here. …We need to figure out a way as coaches to maybe play a cleaner game early and not go down to the end.”
Houliston’s shot completed a comeback in which the Patriots scored the game’s final eight points after trailing 71-66 with 1:50 remaining. It came after the Choctaws (10-8, 7-6) turned the ball over on their attempt for the win, which allowed Houliston to dribble the ball out to midcourt and call time out with less than a handful of seconds left.
The final play was drawn up for in bounder Travis Dykman to take the shot, but when it broke down Houliston had only one option — a desperation 3-pointer from the top of the arc.
“I thought Darren had great presence to come into that gap area and get a good look,” Bizot said. “And he buried it.”
Dykman finished with a game-high 26 points with four assists to lead the Patriots, who trailed by as many as nine in the second half. Other Patriots in double figures scoring were Joe Stephens and Billy Hopson, who finished with 11 points each.
Brandon Blake scored 22 points to pace Mississippi College, which would’ve moved into a tie atop the conference standings with a victory. The Choctaws were also represented in double figures by Laquavius Cotton (12 points), Vic McLin Jr. (11 points) and Turmonte Ragland (10 points).
Much like the final outcome, the teams were pretty much even when it came to statistics:
-- Mississippi College outshot UT Tyler 48 to 40 percent from the floor.
-- The free throw situation included UT Tyler making 17 of 32 and Mississippi College making 15 of 29.
-- Both teams had eight turnovers.
“It’s a huge win for our program,” Bizot said. “Mississippi College scared me from the beginning after watching a lot of their film and seeing what they had on the floor. I thought it would be hard to do some of the things we’ve been doing well all year because of their athleticism and their length, and I was right for most of the game.”
Mississippi College entered the break with a 35-32 advantage over the Patriots, who went into the day riding a two-game winning streak after losing four of its previous five. The Choctaws fell behind 10-2 during the first six minutes of the game, but went on a 10-2 run during the next four minutes to pull even at 12-12.
Jordan Cannon drained a 3-pointer with 1:15 left in the half to give Mississippi College the three-point halftime lead.
Blake jumpstarted his big afternoon in the first 20 minutes, scoring 17 points on 6 of 10 shooting and making 5 of 5 shots at the free throw line.
Dykman and Stephens paced the Patriots in the first half with 12 points and 11 points, respectively.
UT Tyler took over in the paint in the second half, offsetting a poor overall shooting day with high-percentage interior shots by post She’Cara Humphrey and forward Brittany King. The duo both finished in double figures scoring at 15 points for King and 13 points for Humphrey.
Danai Woods followed with 10 points and four assists for UT Tyler, which improved to 12-7 on the season and 7-6 in conference.
Mississippi College (11-8, 8-5) forward Caitlin Brown finished with 15 points and five rebounds. Fellow Lady Chactows Traci Rodgers and Ebony Williams added 12 points and five rebounds and 11 points and five boards, respectively.
Humphrey scored three consecutive baskets from underneath early in the second half to give the Patriots a 29-22 lead. UT, which shot less than 25 percent from the floor in the opening half, increased the percentage in the interior (44 percent shooting in the second half) during the final 20 minutes to take control and lead by double figures on multiple occasions.
The Patriots led by as many as 14 points in the latter stages of the second half, spending much of the final five minutes at the free throw line. UT Tyler went 26 of 35 from the line for the afternoon, attempting 16 more free throws than Mississippi College (14 of 19).
UT Tyler entered the break with a 21-20 lead, despite shooting only 24 percent from the floor in the first half (6 of 25). But the Patriots offset the shooting woes with a 7-of-9 performance at the line and a rebounding advantage.
UT Tyler, which fell 61-51 to conference leader Louisiana College on Thursday, spread the ball to seven different scorers in the half — none of whom finished with more than four points. The Patriots trailed for much of the half, but took the lead via a Breann McMillan jumper with 9:13 left.
Ebony Williams finished the half with seven points and four boards to pace Mississippi College, which shot 40 percent from the floor (8 of 20). Caitlin Brown added eight points.