Katy, TX (SportsNetwork.com) - In an all-Lone Star State affair, the Southland Conference Tournament champion will be decided when the top-seeded Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks tangle with the third-seeded Sam Houston Bearkats on Saturday night at the Leonard E. Merrell Center.
After dominating the Southland throughout the regular season, the Lumberjacks are a deserving contender in this title bout. SFA went 18-0 in league play to claim the regular-season crown and earn a double-bye to the semifinals in this event, where it handled Northwestern State in an 85-78 final. The Lumberjacks have won 27 straight games in all, which is the second-longest streak in the nation behind Wichita State. If they can push the streak to 28 games, the Lumberjacks will capture their second Southland title -- the first coming in 2009.
The Bearkats are carrying quite a bit of momentum into this contest, having won four straight games, including triumphs in their first two bouts in this tournament. The first was a 70-61 win over Oral Roberts, and that was followed by a 69-63 win over second-seeded Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Sam Houston State has won this tournament twice previously, with the most recent being in 2010.
This matchup marks the 193rd time these in-state rivals have met on the hardwood. The series is currently tied at 96-96, but Stephen F. Austin won both contests during the regular season.
Despite a rough outing from leading scorer Jabari Peters, who connected on just 2-of-11 from the floor and 0-of-6 from 3-point range, Sam Houston State was able to knock off Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. The Bearkats still managed to outscore the Islanders from 3-point range (18-12), and at the free-throw line (27-17).
SHSU is a solid offensive team. It is netting 76.7 ppg and shooting 46.5 percent from the field, The Bearkats are efficient when it comes to shooting from the perimeter as well, knocking down 39.7 percent of their 3-point tries. Peters (12.9 ppg) is the leading scorer on the roster and a strong shooter from long distance (.390). In fact, he shoots a better percentage from beyond the arc than he does the field overall (.381). Ransom (12 ppg) is also a strong shooter from the outside, sinking 38.2 percent of his threes.
Long-range shooting was the key for SFA in its win over Northwestern State. The Lumberjacks sank 12-of-29 attempts from 3-point range in the contest, while shooting a solid 45 percent overall. Desmond Haymon netted a team-high 27 points on 8-of-15 from the floor to lead the way.
The defensive end of the court is where the Lumberjacks have been most effective this season. They are allowing only 63.1 ppg, despite foes shooting 45.2 percent from the floor. The key is their ability to get into passing lanes, as they are 14th in the country in assists allowed (9.8 apg). Haymon (14.6 ppg) leads a group of four double-digit scorers Jacob Parker (14.5 ppg) and Thomas Walkup (12.7 ppg) are also strong scorers, while Deshaunt Walker (12 ppg) adds spark off the bench. Parker is the most versatile of the group, leading the squad on the boards, while also adding 1.3 steals per game.