KATY, Texas- Stephen F. Austin shot 55.6 percent from the floor and outscored Sam Houston State by 15 in the second half to win its sixth game in a row and advance in the Southland Conference Tournament with a 68-46 win in the first round on Saturday afternoon at the Leonard E. Merrell Center.
SFA (20-11), the No. 2 seed who had knocked off the No. 7 Bearkats (13-19) in both regular season meetings, got a game-high 13 points from Antonio Bostic, Darius Gardner and Jonathan King to move past SHSU and advance to the tournament's semifinals for the fourth time in the past five years.
The 'Jacks just made 10 field goals in each half, but came away with a stark advantage at the foul line, hitting 24-of-30 attempts on the afternoon after hitting just 17-of-38 tries in its regular-season finale on Saturday at home. The Bearkats attempted just seven foul shots for the afternoon.
Sam Houston led by as much as three points in the first half, but SFA closed out the opening period on an 10-2 run and then delivered a knockout blow to the SHSU chances midway through the second half with a 13-1 run after SHSU had cut the lead to just four points.
King hit all four of his shots from the floor and 5-of-6 from the foul line for his 13 points, while Gardner hit three of SFA's four triples as part of his total to go along with four assists and three rebounds.
Bostic also had four assists and five boards, and the post combo of Jereal Scott and Taylor Smith combined for 18 points and 10 rebounds in an even 20 minutes apiece.
The 'Jacks were their own worst enemy early in the first half with a pair of turnovers in the first three minutes of the game and had to withstand 11 changes in the opening period; however, after a layup by Demarcus Gatlin gave Sam Houston its final lead with just 4:50 to go, Hal Bateman gave SFA the lead back with a jumper that was followed by six straight points from Desmond Haymon as the bulk of SFA's 10-2 run to end the half.
King then scored the first four points of the second half as SFA quickly pushed its lead to nine Haymon foul King for another bucket less than five minutes into the second period. But Marcus James answered with five straight points for Sam Houston to bring the 'Kats back to within four points at 38-34.
But the SHSU 5-0 spurt was answered by Gardner, who knocked down three-point buckets on two of SFA's next five possessions as part of a
13-1 run over a five-minute span that swelled the SFA lead to 16 and seemed to put the Bearkats away for good.
The 'Jacks will take on the winner of No. 3 Lamar and No. 6 Northwestern State at 6:00 p.m. in the tournament semifinals on Thursday. SFA won the first meeting versus both teams in the regular season.