The Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks used a dominant defensive effort to roll over their rivals, the Sam Houston St. Bearkats, 68-49 in the Southland Conference Tournament Championship game. The Lumberjacks will now enter the NCAA Tournament with a 31-2 record, riding a 28 game winning streak.
Stephen F. Austin's defense was awesome all game long, but they were particularly dominant in the second half. After allowing 28 points in the first half, the Lumberjacks held SHSU to just 21 second half points on 31.6% shooting. Over the first 11 minutes of the second half, Sam Houston St. could manage just two field goals allowing SFA's five point halftime lead to balloon to 16. Sam Houston State's 49 points was a season-low total. "They totally deny you on the wings and play over the top. They do a really good job on ball screen motions. They make things very difficult every possession so when you do get good shots you've got to knock them in" said SHSU Head Coach Jason Hooten on SFA's defense.
In our Stephen F. Austin Cinderella Watch piece, we mentioned a key component to this team was it's balance. Southland Conference Player of the Year Jacob Parker's first field goal came more than 25 minutes into the game, his second almost 31 minutes in. Despite getting just 10 points total from Parker, the Lumberjacks were able to cruise thanks to several key performances. Sophomore Thomas Walkup scored 19 points, including SFA's first seven. He added five rebounds and four assists. He was named the Southland Tournament MVP. Senior Deshaunt Walker scored 12 points on four made three pointers. Three of those made three-pointers came in the first half, keeping SFA in the game early. Parker added 12 rebounds, and for the second game in a row made a few key baskets down the stretch in an otherwise quiet offensive game.
The win caps off as dominant a season as the Southland Conference has ever seen. SFA won all 20 Southland games they played. Only six of those games were decided by less than 10 points. Overall, they won league games by an average of more than 15 points per game. The 31 overall wins adds to the Southland record for most wins that SFA set yesterday. The 28 game winning streak continues to rank second nationally, behind only Wichita State who enters the NCAA Tournament at 34-0.
When asked about his team's 28 game winning streak, SFA Head Coach Brad Underwood said, "I don't know how to explain it, but whatever 'it' is, but this team has "it" and it starts with Desmond (Haymon.) I couldn't be happier for him to be a part of this program for four years and get to experience the NCAA tournament. This is an unbelievable group."