Katy, TX (SportsNetwork.com) - For a third year in a row, the top-seeded Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks will be participating in the Southland Conference Tournament finale, but this season they'll have to go through the second-seeded Sam Houston State Bearkats at the Merrell Center in the title match.
The winner of this Southland title clash earns the league crown and gets an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.
Sam Houston State battled to a tight finish with Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Friday in the Southland Conference Tournament semifinal, earning a 70-67 victory over the Islanders to advance to the Bearkats' second straight title match versus Stephen F. Austin.
Stephen F. Austin is looking for its second consecutive Southland title, while the Lumberjacks are making their third straight championship game appearance. They were able to defeat Northwestern State, 91-79, Friday to advance from the semifinal round.
The Lumberjacks and Bearkats met twice during the regular season, and both outcomes favored Stephen F. Austin. Sam Houston State dropped a 79-68 decision back on Jan. 24, and lost in the regular-season finale to the Lumberjacks in Nacogdoches, 64-55.
Sam Houston State grabbed a three-point lead in the closing seconds of Friday's semifinal match over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, and held tough against the Islanders as a game-tying 3-point try at the buzzer missed the mark. The Bearkats survived despite shooting just 33.3 percent from the floor. Jabari Peters scored 19 points to pace Sam Houston, while Michael Holyfield tallied a 12-point, 14-rebound double-double and Dakari Henderson chipped in 11 points in the narrow win.
The second-seeded Bearkats were led in scoring during the regular season by one double-digit scorer. DeMarcus Gatlin netted 10.8 ppg for Sam Houston, yet the Bearkats still managed to average 73.9 ppg as a unit. Entering Friday's semifinal clash, Sam Houston was allowing just 58.6 ppg to opponents as well. In the regular-season finale for Sam Houston State against SFA, Peters led the way offensively with 13 points while the Bearkats shot just 36 percent from the floor.
In a battle of two exceptionally strong offensive teams, Stephen F. Austin connected on 52.6 percent of its shot attempts in the high-scoring 91-79 affair Friday. Ty Charles and Jared Johnson each netted 16 points to pace the Lumberjacks on the offensive end, and Jacob Parker tallied a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Thomas Walkup chipped in 13, and Clide Geffrard contributed 10 in the win.
Last season the Lumberjacks maintained a perfect record in Southland Conference play en route to their NCAA Tournament appearance, where the team beat VCU in overtime in the team's first national bracket matchup. This season SFA lost one conference game to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, but otherwise ran the table to finish 15-1 against the Southland, which included a season-ending victory over Sam Houston State, 64-55.