The Lumberjacks had three shots at the basket in the final 10 seconds to tie the game, but could not convert as the Florida International Golden Panthers snapped a three-game losing streak with a 58-56 win over Stephen F. Austin on Sunday in the finale of the Etech Lumberjack Classic at William R. Johnson Coliseum.
It is the first loss for SFA (4-4) in three years of the Etech Classic, and one that looked as though would be another Lumberjack victory after SFA erased a 35-28 halftime deficit to take a six-point lead with just over 12 minutes to play in the ballgame. The Golden Panthers (3-6) got a key three-point bucket from point guard Phil Taylor with just under two minutes to play to give FIU a 58-54 lead, but was held scoreless over the final 1:51 of the game while the ‘Jacks tried to knot the game.
Jereal Scott cut the lead to just two with 1:28 to play for the last of his team-high 15 points, and after Desmond Haymon intercepted a FIU pass with just 11 seconds to play it set in motion a three-shot flurry at the end of the game that came up empty for SFA as time expired.
Scott just missed his second consecutive double-double by adding eight rebounds to his night on his way to all-tournament honors, and Antonio Bostic and Jonathan King joined him in double figures with 13 and 10 points apiece, respectively. SFA out rebounded FIU 25-21, including 13-6 on the offensive glass, but were still outscored 24-18 in the paint.
SFA struggled to stop FIU's DeJuan Wright, who finished with a game-high 18 points on 5-for-6 shooting from the floor and 6-for-8 from the free throw line.
The ‘Jacks spent the majority of the first half playing from behind as FIU shot a blistering 63 percent from the floor for the half, putting in 14 of its 35 points from inside the painted area. Scott scored each of SFA's first seven points before Bostic joined in with seven straight points of his own; however, after SFA drew even at 17-17 on Hal Bateman's first three-point bucket of the year, the Golden Panthers went on a 12-5 run to separate themselves going into the break.
SFA went nearly five minutes without a field goal to close the half before Darius Gardner canned a floater in the lane that cut the lead to 32-28, but Wright closed out the half on a high note for FIU as he knocked down his second three-point shot of the game with less than three seconds to play to send FIU to the locker room with a 25-28 edge.
Wright opened the second half with a pair of free throws to give FIU its largest lead of the night at 37-28, but Scott layed one in for SFA on the very next possession to begin a 17-2 SFA run that stretched nearly seven minutes and culminated in a 45-39 lead for the ‘Jacks on a layup from Taylor Smith, who finished the night with four points, four rebounds and a pair of blocks off the bench.
But FIU responded with a 10-0 run of its own and built its lead back up to as much as five points on consecutive inside buckets from big man Dominique Ferguson with under four minutes to play. The ‘Jacks quickly cut it to 55-54 with four made free throws from King and Haymon, but FIU got it back to 58-54 when Wright found Taylor in the right corner for the biggest shot of the game for the Golden Panthers.
The ‘Jacks cut it to 58-56 on the next possession, but despite holding the Panthers scoreless on the defensive end, were not able to cash in on the offensive end for the remaining 1:51, including its three shots at the goal to close out the game.
SFA will stay at home for one more game on Dec. 17 versus Texas College before hitting the road for the final time before Christmas when it heads to Eugene, Ore., for three games at the Global Hoops Showcase on the campus of the University of Oregon.