SFA holds off High Point in bracket buster game

NACOGDOCHES, Texas – Taylor Smith finished with 16 points and a career-high five blocks, including two key rejections in the final minutes of the game as Stephen F. Austin withstood a second half rally fromHigh Point to take a 69-62 win on Saturday at William R. Johnson Coliseum in a game that was part of the Sears Bracket Busters event.

SFA (15-11) held a narrow 28-24 lead on the Panthers (11-17) at the half and led by as much as 11 in the second period before the HPU guard combo of Shay Shine and Nick Barbour went to work, cutting the SFA lead to just a point with 2:17 to play; however, SFA managed to clamp down defensively and held the Panthers scoreless for the final minutes of the game to hang on for the win.

Barbour – the reigning Big South player of the year and leading scorer in the conference – and Shine combined for 44 of the Panthers' 62 points, including 21 in the second half alone from Barbour. But SFA countered with four players in double figures, led by Smith's 16 on a perfect 8-for-8 from the field.

Darius Gardner put together one of his most complete stat lines of his career with 15 points, seven rebounds and six assists in 32 minutes of action, canning a pair of threes and hitting 7-for-8 from the foul line, including hitting four freebies in the game's final minute.

Antonio Bostic struggled from the floor, hitting just 5-for-18, but still managed 11 points and earned his first career double-double by dishing out 10 assists in playing all 40 minutes. It was the third time in the last four games that Bostic has played the entire game. Desmond Haymon also added 11 points, including three 3-point buckets in the second half as the 'Jacks finished a solid 7-for-16 from beyond the arc.

In all SFA shot 48.2 percent from the foul line and dominated the paint against the guard-oriented Panthers, outscoring them 30-2 in the lane, including 18-0 in the first half. High Point finished the night 11-for-27 from 3-point range and 13-for-15 from the foul line.

Neither team managed to pull away from the other in the first half until a 6-2 spurt from SFA in the final two minutes managed a slim four-point lead at the break. The 'Jacks hit 14 of their 25 shots from the field in the opening period, but the Panthers stayed close by hitting six treys, three of which came from Shine.

Haymon then started the second half off with a bang for SFA, hitting threes on each of SFA's first two possessions; however, Barbour answered with two triples of his own after scoring just two points in the first half before the 'Jacks were finally able to get going. A jumper from Bostic was followed by two layups from Smith and a three from Gardner that pushed SFA's lead to its peak at 45-34 with 14:01 to play.

But then Shine and Barbour went to work, scoring 20 of High Point's next 22 points before Branimir Mikulic's third three of the night cut the SFA lead to 59-56 with just 3:12 to play.

Smith then followed with an emphatic one-handed dunk that was answered by Barbour's third triple to cut the lead to just a point; however, Bostic hit a 15-foot jumper on SFA's next possession and the 'Jacks were able to survive the next two possessions when Jonathan King stepped in and drew and Smith turned back a shot – both times on Shine – before the 'Jacks closed it out at the foul line.

SFA will now jump back into Southland Conference play on Wednesday when it travels to Lamar on Wednesday.