Northwestern State and Stephen F. Austin are the two best teams in the Southland conference, and it showed in the conference tournament. Two teams who went a combined 50-12 overall and 31-5 in conference, they played twice in the regular season and split those contests, with the Lumberjacks outscoring the Demons by a mere 124-121 margin.
Northwestern State led all of Division I in scoring this season with more than 82 points per game, and Stephen Austin had the best defense in contrast, allowing only 50 points per game. That kind of dichotomy always makes for an interesting contest, and these teams have proven it three times this season.
When these two teams met the first time, Desmond Haymon and Taylor Smith each had a double double for the Lumberjacks, and they outrebounded NWSU 41-30, but they also committed 22 turnovers, which likely cost them the game. The second time around, Haymon and Smith were joined in double figures by Antonio Bostic, and a cut to 15 turnovers was enough to give SFA a one point victory.
Tonight was a different animal. It's not new for the Lumberjacks to get into foul trouble against an athletic team like Northwestern State, but tonight both of their true point guards got into foul trouble, and their offense struggled as a result. Haymon, Smith and Bostic still found a way to fight through it, and put up a bunch of points, but it just wasn't enough.
They held the Demons without a point in the last two minutes, but they also couldn't get a rebound when it mattered. SFA cut the deficit to 68-66 with 1:19 left to play, and didn't regain possession until there were six seconds left, at which point the Demons pressure worked one last time and resulted in a steal for DeQuan Hicks, the teams' second leading scorer on the night.. It's a shame, because the Lumberjacks showed tonight that they weren't just a good defensive team. They could also get going on offense when the pace of the game called for it.
Alas, the Demons and their crazy athletic, everyone plays 15-20 minutes per game style will head into the big dance for the first time in seven years.