NACOGDOCHES, Texas (Press Release)- All good things - even lengthy winning streaks - must come to an end. Unfortunately for Stephen F. Austin, the endpoint for the nation’s third-longest active home court winning streak just happened to be on Wednesday night.
Putting on a performance which was emblematic of their nickname, visiting UAB shot at a 72.1-percent (31-for-43) clip and despite career highs from both Kevon Harris (16) and Leon Gilmore III (17), the ‘Jacks’ 31-game home court winning streak came to a screeching halt with an 84-73 setback to the Blazers.
While Wednesday’s date will live in infamy for many recent followers of Stephen F. Austin, it was not without some promising performances by the home team. In his second collegiate start, Samuli Nieminen put forth an effort consisting of career-high 10 points while sophomore TJ Holyfield added 12 markers of his own.
More positives for a young SFA team were committing a season-low 12 turnovers, shooting 43.8-percent and winning the battles in the bench points (36-23) and the second-chance points (18-7) department. O
“I’m really disappointed that we were unable to achieve victory tonight. We got off to a good start, but UAB did not quit. They have a veteran team and they did what veterans do - that’s fight,” said SFA head coach Kyle Keller. “To turn a double-digit deficit into a two-possession game in the second half, however, was a show of grit and toughness from our young guys and makes me excited for us moving forward.”
Much like their showdown with UAB in Bartow Arena a little less than one year ago, the ‘Jacks got off to a hot start thanks largely to the play of freshman Kevon Harris. The first choice off of SFA’s bench Wednesday night, Harris racked up seven of the first 17 points for the home team, staking it to a 17-12 lead 8:38 into the non-conference battle.
As a matter of fact, SFA’s opening salvo was made possible primarily to its freshman class. Aaron Augustin and Samuli Nieminen each connected on a long-distance dial up through the surge, giving the ‘Jacks’ freshman class all but four points during its opening statement.
Right after Harris’ driving score handed SFA its largest lead of the game, UAB scored the next six points and set off a four-minute stretch of lead changes by doing so. Gilmore III swapped dunks with UAB’s Tyler Madison and it was SFA’s junior that put the home team on top for the final time with his layup at the 6:23 mark of the opening frame.
Following that shot, however, the ‘Jacks’ shooting temperature went from simmering to absolute zero. For the next 4:45, Stephen F. Austin could not put in a field goal and had to watch UAB rack up 10 of its 12 points during a 12-1 run from either the painted area or at the free throw line.
Deion Lavender put the finishing touches on UAB’s game-changing run with a mid-range hit before Harris finally ended what proved to be an exceedingly costly SFA drought with a hard-driving finish at the tin with 1:28 remaining in the opening stanza.
Harris’ hit from the field sparked a 6-3 SFA spree to close the first half, pulling the ‘Jacks within seven, 37-30. That halftime deficit was the largest the ‘Jacks had faced in their 31-game home court winning streak.
Whatever momentum Stephen F. Austin had gathered up through the final 98 seconds of the first half evaporated quickly as the Blazers embarked on a 16-8 run through the first 4:31 of the second half. That run handed the visitors their largest lead of the tilt - 53-38 - before SFA commenced its rally attempt.
Joining forces, Gilmore III and Holyfield each took to the sky to unleash a slam dunk as part of a 7-0 Lumberjack run that trimmed UAB’s lead to 53-45. Undaunted, the Blazers responded with a monster jam off the mitts of Madison to push their lead back to 10 with 12:43 remaining.
Chris Cokley emplyed a mid-range jumper in order to extend UAB’s lead back to 66-53 with 7:11 to go. Needing anything to try and erase that deficit, the ‘Jacks received three-point hits from Ivan Canete and Holyfield to close out a 12-4 run that shrank SFA’s deficit to 70-65 with 4:24 left.
The final part of UAB’s streak-busting triumph came in the form of a 7-0 run, culminating with a wide-open corner triple by Hakeem Baxter that made matters 77-65 with 2:20 remaining.
Nieminen finished an 8-1 SFA run with a put-back layup to pull the ‘Jacks back within five, 78-73, with 1:08 left, but the Blazers closed out the first win for a visiting team in Nacogdoches since Nov. 18, 2014, by going 6-for-6 from the free throw line in the last minute.
Freshman Javien Williams registered a game-high 21 points for UAB and was one of five Blazers who finished with 10 or more points. William Lee went 6-for-6 from the field to finish with 14 points. The forward also added a game-high nine rebounds and five of UAB’s seven blocked shots.
Up next for Stephen F. Austin is a short trip south to Houston where the ‘Jacks are set to face off against a 6-2 Rice squad on Saturday night. Tip-off in the first meeting between SFA and Rice since 2001 is set for 7:00 p.m. inside Tudor Fieldhouse.