Nate West's parents sat right up front at the Gallego Center during Friday night's game. Surrounded by Sul Ross supporters, they delighted in almost every LeTourneau possession, and offered unsolicited advice as their son silenced hundreds of anxious fans.
“It could potentially be my last game at any time,” West, a senior, said after his team eliminated Sul Ross. “So it’s just really special that they can always be there to watch me.”
Alpine was hoping for another championship weekend like in 2018 when Sul Ross won an American Southwest Conference title at home, and appeared in the Division III NCAA Tournament for the first time in 14 years. Instead the Lobos ran into the Yellow Jackets and the top scorer in conference history on Feb. 28 in a 73-66 semifinal loss.
LeTourneau won the championship the next day in a thriller against East Texas Baptist.
West scored 36 points in the championship game, including the winning buckets in the final minute. Just one week earlier, he said goodbye to his home court with an unreal 67-point performance on Senior Night at LeTourneau.
In the first half against Sul Ross, he was on fire as well, scoring 17 and leading the Jackets to a 43-27 lead at halftime. The crowd was dazed, and seemed tired. After a raucous quarterfinal win over Louisiana College the night before, the Lobos were now 20 minutes away from the end of the season.
“We had a tough six or eight minutes in the first half,” Sul Ross Head Coach Clif Carroll said. “We probably won the rest of the game.”
LeTourneau still led by 14 with 10 minutes to go, but amidst a 20-4 run by the Lobos, it was suddenly a four point game. Sul Ross excelled at the free throw line, and even held West to six second half points.
“As a coach you hate having to game plan for him,” Carroll added. “Asking how are we going to guard him and how we are going to have a game plan made me a better coach. It doesn’t matter what Division you’re in. If you score 2,000 points in your career you’re a hell of a player.”
The lead was only three for the Yellow Jackets with three minutes to go, but that is as close as the Lobos would come. The crowd came alive, and the building was shaking during the second half. The locals did their best to will the ball through the hoop on a night when Sul Ross only hit six of their 27 three-point attempts.
Tristen Licon finished with 19 points in the loss, and was the lone Lobo to be named to the All-Tournament team. Cole Avery had 13 in his final game ever at Sul Ross. Senior BJ Hollis scored over 1,000 points during his four years on Hancock Hill, but he couldn’t hold back tears after only adding one bucket in his swansong.
Sitting just a few seats down from the West family was another player who racked up 1,000 career points during their time at Sul Ross. Chandre Nunez made a lot of noise, but afterwards she knew what her fellow 2020 seniors were going through.
“It was a tough loss for us, but we fought hard to the end,” Nunez said. “They were one game away from the championship game, so I know it hurt a lot.”
Sul Ross has won the Western Division and hosted the ASC tournament three times since Clif Carroll took over the men’s program five seasons ago. Nunez thinks the Lady Lobos are going to break out soon, and start making conference tournament appearances regularly as well.
“We’ve just got to dig,” she said. “I felt like we were collecting together as a group too late. If they start off like we ended this year, they'll definitely end up in that tournament next year.”