SFA Athletics Release
For the first time since 2013, the Stephen F. Austin men’s basketball team will not represent the Southland Conference in the NCAA Tournament.
The ‘Jacks dreams of a fourth-straight trip to he big dance came to end Friday night at the Leonard E. Merrell Center when SFA dropped a 77-69 decision to second-seeded Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in the second semifinal game of the Southland Conference Tournament.
Entering the game having never lost to the Islanders in Katy, the ‘Jacks never held the lead in a game that saw two of the league’s top-tier forwards going at it. Leon Gilmore III wrapped up his effective stay in Katy with a 20-point, 10-rebound double-double, but Texas A&M-Corpus Christi’s Rashawn Thomas put forth a game-bets 27 points on 9-for-12 shooting to lead the Islanders back to the Southland Conference Tournament title game for the second-straight season.
“The Islanders commanded the game from the beginning and we had no answer for [Rashawn] Thomas and his efficiency,” said SFA head coach Kyle Keller. “They didn’t do one thing that we hadn’t prepared for, but we just didn’t react very well to the way they came out of the gates and I’m disappointed that we put ourselves in that position.”
Before they won the game, the Islanders first won the opening tip and hit the ‘Jacks with a 9-0 scoring punch in the first 3:01 of the tilt. Ivan Canete stopped that uncontested spurt with a triple from the far corner, but the Islanders pumped in the next four to open up their first double-digit lead of the game.
That initial 13-3 surge provided a large enough cushion for the Islanders to remain in control for the remainder of the frame. Samuli Nieminen’s three-pointer from the top of the key with 13:26 left in the opening stanza shrank the Islanders’ edge to 13-8, but that was as close as SFA make matters through the first 20 minutes of action.
Although he fouled out, Ty Charles posted a line of 16 points and four rebounds for the ‘Jacks, who managed to cut the Islanders’ lead down to five points on four occasions in the final 3:53. For the game, the ‘Jacks shot only 39.2-percent (20-for-51) from the field and were hurt further by a 5-for-21 (23.8-percent) showing from long distance.
All hope appeared lost after Cole Martinez drilled triples on consecutive Islander possessions to put the ‘Jacks in an 18-point hole with 13:23 remaining, but the ‘Jacks’ never-say-die attitude shined through to the final buzzer.
Charles and Gilmore III put the ‘Jacks on their backs and scored all but two points during a 13-4 run by the number-three seed which spanned exactly five minutes. it was Charles that concluded the scoring spree with a make at the free throw line to trim the Islanders’ lead to 59-50 with 7:44 left.
Less than one minute after the game became a single-digit affair for the first time since 1:58 remained in the first half, Amin sank a pull-up runner in the lane that extended the Islanders’ edge back to 11 points with 6:56 to go.
The ‘Jacks’ last-ditch comeback effort came to a head when Dallas Cameron pulled up and drilled a mid-range jumper to cut the Islanders’ lead to 65-60 with 3:17 left. Thomas extinguished SFA’s hopes on the very next Texas A&M-Corpus Christi possession, however, when his three-pointer from the far wing put the higher seed back up by eight with three minutes to go.
Nieminen sank two free throws with 1:42 left to pull SFA within five again with 1:42 left before Martinez nailed another three and Kareem South closed a 5-0 Islander spurt with a fast-break layup that put SFA in a 73-63 hole with 1:12 remaining. Despite a pair of late three-pointers from Gilmore III, SFA could only watch as the Islanders closed things out with three free throw makes in the last 11 seconds.
Martinez pumped in 16 more for the Islanders off of the bench while South added 13 for the Islanders who snapped a streak of four-straight Southland Conference Tournament finals appearances for the ‘Jacks.