With a trip to the NCAA Tournament at stake, the Northwestern State Demons and Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks square off in the Southland Conference Tournament Championship game at the Leonard E. Merrell Center.
This bout marks the third meeting of the 2012-13 season between these two schools, and both successfully defended their home courts earlier this year. Northwestern State claimed a 61-57 decision on Jan. 26 in Natchiotches, Louisiana before the Lumberjacks got their revenge with a 64-63 win in Nacogdoches, Texas on March 2.
Northwestern State will be trying to collect its third tourney title after failing to do so each year since its 2006 championship. The Demons survived their Friday night matchup with Sam Houston State as DeQuan Hicks and Marvin Frazier each scored 11 points to help them hold on for a 55-52 win. Shamir Davis and James Hulbin each tallied seven points as well for Northwestern State, which has won its last three games.
The Demons have made 15 previous appearances in the conference tournament and have played for the title six times, winning in 2001 and 2006. Northwestern State went on to win games in the NCAA Tournament each of those years, beating Winthrop in '01 and following that with a last-second upset victory of Iowa in the '06 event. This year, Mike McConathy's Demons finished just one game behind the Lumberjacks to become the second seed. Northwestern State has an explosive offense with four double-digit scorers, led by Hicks and his 14.2 ppg. The Demons net 82.4 ppg, which is more than any other Division I school.
Stephen F. Austin advanced past Southeastern Louisiana on Friday, as Taylor Smith went 7-of-8 from the floor en route to 14 points and 11 rebounds in what wound up as a 68-57 victory. Antonio Bostic and Desmond Haymon netted 16 points apiece for the Lumberjacks, who also received 11 points and five assists from Hal Bateman in the winning effort. SFA is seeking its second Southland Conference Tournament championship, as its only other crown was won in 2009.
The Lumberjacks lost just one non-conference game and notched impressive victories at Tulsa, versus San Diego and at Oklahoma. Coach Danny Kaspar's squad has won its last six games overall. SFA was below average offensively this season with an average of 65.1 ppg, but defensively it was the best in the nation with an allowed average of only 50.2 ppg. Smith was named the Conference Player of the Year after he posted 15.6 points, nine rebounds, three blocks and 1.1 steals per game. He also earned the Defensive Player of the Year award.