Reports of Stephen F. Austin’s death have been greatly exaggerated.
Or, so Lumberjacks fans must hope after SFA dumped Baylor Tuesday night on a game-winning, buzzer-beating layup from Shannon Bogues. It was a tremendous moment for a proud program that has been flirting with the term “underwhelming” through the season’s first month and a half.
Kyle Keller was effusive after the game.
“I’m dressed in this shirt because it’s kind of an emotional night for our guys. We’ve been shorthanded, we’re down five players, we’ve really struggled, we’re not who we are. Our guys really had a lot of unity. We’ve been preaching staying together. We did stay together tonight for the first time,” [he said in a release].
Has it really been that much of a struggle for SFA, which now sits at 6-4?
The optimist would say no. The Lumberjacks have dealt with a slew of injuries, most notably to a season-ender to star forward T.J. Holyfield. The losses aren’t particularly offensive and are caked with asterisks. SFA has fallen only to Miami (ACC), a resurgent San Francisco team (in Belfast), Louisiana Tech (in overtime) and Louisiana Monroe (on the road).
But dig a little deeper and this has not been the season the Lumberjacks expected. Keller admitted as much on Tuesday night.
“This team, when it was built, was built better. We’d have won 30 games this year. Unfortunately, we are where we are,” [he said in a release].
The Miami game was a 38-point pelting. Louisiana Tech is a solid program, but SFA has come to expect to win games like that at Johnson Coliseum. And sprinkled throughout have been uncharacteristically down performances against non-Div. I competition.
The Lumberjacks had to sneak past Southwest Assemblies of God by one point. They let Texas Wesleyan get too comfortable from three in their opener, and committed 20 turnovers against St. Edwards in late November. And that — ball control — has been the biggest issue this year for the Southland favorite.
SFA is turning the ball over at one of the highest rates in the country, with only seven teams coughing it up more often. It doomed them in the loss to Louisiana Tech (20 turnovers), and nearly did them in against Baylor (19 turnovers). Much of that is likely due to the absence of point guard Aaron Augustin, who has been limited to just four games due to injury and illness. Bogues — a natural off-ball scorer — has had to moonlight as a lead guard in.
But despite those struggles, SFA and its ever-effective defense showed a major pulse in upsetting Baylor, even if this appears to not be one of the Bears’ better teams.
“I wouldn’t want to play us in March when we get our guys back. That’s just my opinion. We got to get there. We’re not very good right now. We had one night tonight, now we’ve got to sustain it,” [Keller said in a release].
Bogues has been playing at an all-conference level, while slow-starting Kevon Harris and Davonte Fitzgerald will cause Southland teams nightmares with their versatility on the perimeter and paint. Holyfield won’t be back, removing a high major-caliber post defender from Keller’s arsenal. Neither will junior guard John Comeaux, who’s out with a season-ending knee injury. Augustin, however, figures to return, along with, it appears, experienced bigs Samuli Nieminen and Jovan Grujic.
Even with the roster as it currently stands, SFA put a jolt into a power conference team on Tuesday. If it can avoid another sluggish performance against a non-Div. I (Arlington Baptist) on Friday, it’ll have momentum heading into the game all of SFA collectively circled prior to the season: the home match with Alabama on Dec. 30.
It’s been a lingering strange site with the Lumberjacks absent from this site’s Other Top 25 rankings, but the poll-mainstay may have a chance to vault back in with another high major upset before 2018 is through. Even if it doesn’t, SFA has shown in the last week that the script on this season isn’t set in stone quite yet.