Released by SFA Sports Information
NACOGDOCHES, Texas – Desmond Haymon hit a driving go-ahead layup with less than 12 seconds to play and Jalan Wests's three-point try at the buzzer rimmed out, giving the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks a 64-63 winover Northwestern State in a battle of first-place teams on Saturday at William R. Johnson Coliseum.
The Lumberjacks (24-3, 14-2 SLC), who led for all but just 65 seconds of the entire game needed every point it could get after the Demons (19-8, 13-3 SLC) erased a six-point halftime deficit to take a one-point lead with just 45 seconds remaining on a pair of foul shots from West.
One possession later, after a key offensive rebound from Nikola Gajic, Haymon converted a his layup and the ‘Jacks got the stop they needed to avenge a four-point loss in the team's first meeting, a game SFA led by seven points with less than three minutes to play.
"I am so proud of our guys for this win," SFA head coach Danny Kaspar said following the win. "I thought we gave one away there, and maybe this was one that we shouldn't have gotten. But we did just enough to pull it out, and much of that thanks to the big crowd that showed up. They really propelled us."
The win puts SFA in the driver's seat for its third Southland Conference title, needing just one more win in its final two games to clinch at least a share of a crown. A win would also clinch the No. 1 overall seed in the Southland Conference Tournament, and, at worse, an automatic berth in the NIT.
Taylor Smith led the ‘Jacks in the scoring with 18 points, 16 coming in the opening half, and 11 rebounds in 40 minutes for his ninth double-double of the season. Antonio Bostic added 15 points and two steals, whie Haymon came up with a big second half for the second straight game, scoring 10 of his 13 points in the final period.
SFA shot just 42.3 percent from the field and for the first time all season had more turnovers (15) than assists (9), but hit 17 of 25 from the foul line – including 12 of 14 in the opening half – and out rebounded the Demons 36-30.
James Hulbin led Northwestern State with 20 points, but it was West who ultimately did the most damage with eight points to go along with nine assists and two steals in 33 minutes off the Demon bench.
The ‘Jacks led 36-30 at the intermission after a quick four points for the Demons in the final minute cut into what was a 10-point SFA lead. Smith and Bostic combined to score all of SFA's first 14 points and SFA eventually got its lead up to 24-15 after a 10-2 run. Buckets from Smith and Haymon helped push the lead to 36-26 with under two minutes to play in the half before the combination of Hulbin and Shamir Davis pumped in four quick buckets just before the break.
The ‘Jacks then hit just five of 11 foul shots in the second half, but made up for it with a trio of three-pointers after going 0-for-4 from beyond the arc in the first period. SFA was never able to muster more than a seven-point lead at any point in the final 20 minutes, but still held a 60-54 lead at the five-minute mark after a pair of foul shots from Thomas Walkup.
But poimns from Hulbin and Brison White quickly cut the lead to just a point, and had the margin at just that after Walkup and Marvin Frazier traded layups.
That set up the final minute, when NWLA's Patrick Robinson got a steal with under a minute to go and found West, who was fouled by Walkup. The freshman West, then proceeded to sink both shots to give the Demons their first lead of the night, 63-62 with just 45 seconds to go.
SFA then drew up a play on the other end that resulted in a good look from Bostic that did not go down; however, Gajic, who had just entered after Walkup fouled out, hauled in his third offensive board in just six minutes of action to give SFA second life with 19 seconds to play.
The ‘Jacks then called Haymon's number, who drove to the left side of the land and got a layup to go with a foul to put SFA back in front with less than 12 seconds to play. He missed the foul shot, giving the Demons a chance on the other end. But West's three-pointer from the left corner went halfway down and popped out at the buzzer, giving SFA the victory.
SFA will now look ahead to its final two games, both at home, starting Thursday night vs Sam Houston State. A win over the Bearkatswould clinch at least a share of the league title for SFA, which would be its third in the last six years.