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Savion Flagg, Bearkats stealing WAC spotlight

The Texas A&M transfer is on a historic tear.

NCAA Basketball: Texas A&M at Auburn
Flagg seen here with Texas A&M.
John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

The WAC has Player of the Year-caliber cases strewn throughout the conference, with Teddy Allen, Fardaws Aimaq, Jovan Blacksher and Seattle’s pair of exciting guards all having tremendous seasons in one of the most jumbled conference races in the country. Savion Flagg, however, has stolen the show to this point.

That’s in no small part because Flagg has helped Sam Houston State itself grab a big slice of the spotlight.

The Bearkats — tabbed by the coaches to finish seventh — have sprinted to an 8-1 WAC start, and have done so in fashion. Their current six-game winning streak includes wins over Stephen F. Austin, New Mexico State, Grand Canyon and Abilene Christian, holding early serve against several other contenders.

Flagg has been at the heart of the uptick (20.0 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 38.8 3P%), something that at the outset seemed critical if the Bearkats were going to make the most of what has turned out to be both their inaugural and penultimate season in the WAC. Jason Hooten’s string of eight consecutive winning seasons looked in jeopardy in the offseason, as SHSU lost its leading scorer (Zach Nutall) and a potential-laden sophomore (Bryce Monroe) to the transfer portal. Landing Flagg — a former top prep prospect and frequent starter over four years at Texas A&M — looked like the solution to losing Nutall’s heavy offensive contributions.

He’s been just that at arguably historic levels.

Few players have had as versatile a campaign as Flagg in the last 30 years. The graduate senior has pitched in all over the court, on track to became just the sixth player since 1992 to average at least 20 points and seven rebounds per game, while shooting at least 38 percent on seven or more three-point attempts a game. Those are a litany of qualifiers but the stats shouldn’t be lost in the noise: few players have scored, rebounded and shot high-volume three’s at the levels Flagg has in boosting SHSU up the standings.

The company on that multi-faceted list is impressive. The most recent player to do it was Belmont’s Dylan Windler in 2018-19, and he’s since gone on to become a regular in the Cleveland Cavaliers rotation. One of those other five (UT Martin’s Lester Hudson) played in the NBA while another (Eastern Illinois’ Henry Domercant) was a EuroLeague regular. Shane Battier — who averaged 19.9 points per game his senior year — just missed the cut.

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After a close win at California Baptist midweek, Flagg and the Bearkats face off with unbeaten Seattle (7-0) on Saturday with first place on the line. The Redhawks are coming off a big win of their own as they kept SFA at arm’s length in a tough shooting night for both teams.

SU has posted the most efficient defense since WAC play began, and now is tasked with keeping Flagg under control. The Bearkats have also had junior Jaden Ray (8.5 ppg, 4.2 apg) step into the minutes vacated by Monroe at point guard, while junior Demarkus Lampley (10.4 ppg) is working on a second straight season averaging double figure scoring.

Those two kickstarted the current winning streak with the Bearkats’ dramatic win at Abilene Christian on Jan. 8. A Lampley three with under 30 seconds broke a tie game in the Teague Center and seemed to hand SHSU a road win over its former Southland rival. But the Wildcats tied the game on the next possession, setting up a thrilling final burst from Ray.

Three weeks later, SHSU has continued to win in a variety of ways. They out-slugged SFA in a game that ended in the 40’s (49-41), handed NMSU just its second 20-point or more loss in WAC play in the last decade and overcame a six-point halftime deficit to get past GCU. Does this current stretch show that the Bearkats have enough to grab a WAC regular season or tournament title in their first of two seasons before departing for the redesigned Conference USA?

Led by Flagg, that certainly seems on the table.