Steve Green finally cracked a smile.
Known for his blank demeanor once the ball is tipped — before transforming into one of the more animated characters in the building as the game intensifies — the 15-year coach for South Plains College shook hands and hugged every one of his players on the bench before exchanging additional embraces with the rest of his Texans, who ran toward him in excitement from the court as the scoreboard clock winded down.
“Coach Green is a real intense coach. He’s not going to smile until the game is finally over,” said Texans guard Jerron Martin. “He’s real intense and emphasizes a lot of discipline in us.”
South Plains avoided a meltdown in the final five minutes against Howard College after completely dominating an overmatched Hawks team in all categories, leading by as many as 24 in the Texans’ 72-63 Region V Championship victory Saturday inside the Brownwood Coliseum.
The Texans were the stronger, quicker, more aggressive and the just-too-athletic squad for the overmatched Hawks. After the first period, the Texans’ 17-point halftime cushion slowly evaporated as Hawks guard Sam Finley put his team on his back and attempted to muster back-to-back comeback performances after trimming the lead down to seven with just three minutes remaining.
However, Finley — who scored a game-high 22 points, including four 3-pointers in 38 minutes of action — and his underdog team ran out of time and just ran into a deeper team.
“I expected a game like this,” said Green, a two-time NJCAA Coach of the Year recipient. “We got off to a great start; they came back and we knew that they would. I thought my guys played really well and showed a lot of toughness.”
Howard upended defending champion Hill College in comeback fashion Friday night behind heroic performances from Finley and teammate guard Rob Gray.
Behind a 19-point performance from guard Brandon Neel and 12-point showing by forward David Kadiri, the Texans (26-6) were able to hold off the Hawks (24-7).
“We’re just all glad that we were able to come back after they cut it close,” said Martin, who chipped in nine points. “I’m glad to be a part of this championship team.”
Green is calm in the first half, calmly sitting back in his chair while his assistants Hank Plona and Cole Dewey are the ones mainly doing the in-game coaching.
But once the second half is under way, and when his team’s lead goes from 15 to 12 to 10 to seven, Green is standing. His voice instantly crescendos and he becomes more lively as he walks back and forth from the coach’s box to the bench, barking out plays and getting in his players' faces and reminds them of their defensive assignments.
Green and his Texans next test will try to make it a trifecta when they travel to Hutchinson, Kan. to compete for the NJCAA Men’s National Basketball Championship, scheduled for March 16-21.
“We played a really tough schedule all season long,” said Green, who has helmed two NJCAA championships in five seasons with the Texans. "There will be a lot of good teams out there, so we’ll see what happens.”