KATY, Texas – Shamir Davis scored 19 points, DeQuan Hicks added 13 points and made the last-second steal that clinched Northwestern State's 68-66 win over Stephen F. Austin in the Southland Conference championship game on Saturday night.
The Demons (23-8) earned their first automatic NCAA tournament berth since 2006 and the third overall. Davis was named the tournament's most valuable player.
Desmond Haymon scored 23 points and Taylor Smith had 16 points and 14 rebounds for Stephen F. Austin (27-4).
The Demons were the nation's highest scoring team in the regular season (82.4 points per game) and Stephen F. Austin boasted the nation's top scoring defense (50.2 points per game). Fittingly, the game came down to the final seconds.
The Demons' Jalan West briefly left the game late after twisting his left ankle, but returned for the final minute. He missed a deep 3, but Hicks corralled the offensive rebound and West got it again.
West let the clock wind down and then missed a mid-range jumper with about 10 seconds left. The ball bounced out of bounds and Stephen F. Austin called a timeout with 5.3 seconds remaining to set up the potentially game-tying play. But Hicks stole a long pass and heaved the ball at the backboard as the final seconds ticked off.
The buzzer sounded and multi-colored confetti showered the court as the Demons ran into each other's arms to celebrate. One consolation for the Lumberjacks was extending their streak of holding opponents under 70 points to 63 games.
The Demons trailed early, then outscored Stephen F. Austin 26-11 over an 11-minute span that also included Lumberjacks' assists leader Hal Bateman going to the bench with his third foul. Davis scored seven straight points during the stretch and West sank a straight-on 3-pointer with 5:29 left in the half for a 29-22 lead.
Stephen F. Austin held the Demons to only one field goal for the rest of the first half. Antonio Bostic just beat the shot clock with a fallaway 3-pointer to put Stephen F. Austin up 35-34 at the break, the 28th time in 31 games this season that the Lumberjacks have been up at halftime.
The Demons speeded up the pace after the break. West scored on a drive, James Hulbin made a 3-pointer and the Demons built a four-point lead. Smith continued to pull down rebounds and keep Stephen F. Austin close.
Bateman played the first nine minutes of the second half, but smacked Davis underneath with 10:38 remaining and left with his fourth foul. Brison White stole the ball and finished a fast break with a behind-the-back dribble and layup to stretch the Demons' lead to 54-45 with just over nine minutes left.
The Lumberjacks had one more rally left to make. Smith finished another three-point play and Haymon sank a pullup jumper as the Lumberjacks trimmed the deficit to 62-61 with just under four minutes remaining. Hicks scored twice inside and the Demons pushed the lead to four with two minutes to go.
West twisted his left ankle and left the game to get a quick re-taping. Haymon's floater with 1:31 left cut it to 68-66 and Northwestern State coach Mike McConathy called a timeout to get West back in the game.
Northwestern State won for the 20th time in 25 games and also improved to 18-0 when leading at the midpoint of the second half.
Stephen F. Austin was seeking its second NCAA tournament berth and first since 2009.