SFA advances to SLC tourney final

From SFA sports information

KATY, Texas - The top-seeded Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks withstood a three-point barrage from Southeastern Louisiana and put four players in double figures in a 68-57 win over the Lions in the semifinals of the Southland Conference Tournament on Friday at the Leonard E. Merrell Center.

Southeastern (13-18), who gave SFA (27-3) one of just three losses, hit 11 three-point buckets on the night, including eight in the second half; but, the Lumberjacks did their damage inside, outscoring the Lions 34-10 in the paint and adding a quintet of triples of their own.

The win vaults SFA into the tournament title game on Saturday at 7:30 p.m., a game which will be aired on ESPN2 vs the winner of No. 2 Northwestern State and No. 6 Sam Houston State. The winner of that contest will earn the Southland's automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.

"I was really proud of how our guys withstood that early blitz from Southeastern," head coach Danny Kaspar said. "They showed a lot of character responding the way we did, and I thought our defense was very good. Sometimes you just have to credit a team for making shots, and Southeastern made a lot of them to get back in it."

The win was also Danny Kaspar's 246th as SFA's head coach, elevating to second by himself in the rankings, trailing only Marshall Brown.

Antonio Bostic and Desmond Haymon led all players with game highs of 16 points apiece, including three three-pointers from Bostic. Taylor Smith scored 14 points, hitting all seven of his shots from the field in the first half before the Lion defense allowed him just one attempt in the second period. He also added 11 rebounds to record his 12th double-double of the season.

In all, SFA hit 53.3 percent of its shots from the field on the night and held the Lions, to just 40.4 percent just one night after Southeastern connected for a season-high 55.8 percent in a 20-point quarterfinal win over McNeese State. The `Jacks also controlled the boards 37-24, and had nine offensive rebounds.

But it was the Lions' three-point shooting that pushed them out to an early lead, and nearly brought them all the way back. Southeastern led 18-13 early on before a 16-2 Lumberjack run that was keyed by six points from Smith and five from Bostic and lasted 5:39 of game time and gave the `Jacks a 29-20 lead. Southeastern then got buckets from Dre Evans and Brandon Fortenberry, but was held scoreless for the final 5:23 of the half as the `Jacks pumped in seven more points, five from Bostic, to lead 39-25 at intermission.

SFA led by as much as 22 points in the second half, but eight Lion triples made things interesting. Southeastern made just nine of 24 shots from the field in the second period, but eight of them were from beyond the arc. They were held without a field goal for the first 5:14 of the game before Roger Woods' layup ended a 7-3 SFA spurt, and eventually proved to be the only two-point field goal for the Lions the rest of the way.

The `Jacks answered that bucket with a bucket from Hal Bateman, who finished with11 points and five assists, and a triple from Bostic to increase the lead to its peak at 52-30 with less than 14 minutes to play. But the Lions responded themselves, going on a 10-1 run to trim the lead back to 10 after threes from Dre Evans, Jeffrey Ricard and Onochie Ochie, who led the Lions with 12 points and hit four triples. During that span the `Jacks went cold from the field, not connecting on a field goal for nearly eight minutes before a Haymon layup with 5:10 to go.

From there the `Jacks found themselves at the foul line the majority of the remainder of the way, and made the Lions pay by hitting eight of their final 10 foul shots.