Eager to put on a show for their home fans for the first time in 2017-18, the Stephen F. Austin men's basketball team began a stretch of three home games in four days by having to match up against a squad that came in averaging almost 100 points per game.
By laying down the trump card of William R. Johnson Coliseum - the site of the nation's second-best home court winning percentage since 2012-13 - the Stephen F. Austin men's basketball team beat the high-scoring hand of St. Edward's.
Sparked by a second-straight double-double performance by sophomore Kevon Harris who finished with a team-high 18 points and a game-high 10 rebounds, SFA improved to 2-0 for the first time since 2013-14 by blasting the NCAA Division II Hilltoppers by an 89-66 margin Wednesday night in a game which served as the 'Jacks' home opener.
Heading into the interdivisional bout, St. Edward's was fresh off a 108-point outing against Southwestern the previous evening which hiked the Hilltoppers' scoring average to 99.7 per game in 2017-18. All SFA's defense did to the high-scoring Hilltoppers was limit them to over 30 points below their season average by forcing 26 turnovers and turning those throwaways into 34 points - a little over 38-percent of SFA's total on the night.
Once the final horn sounded, four players had finished with 12 or more points for the 'Jacks. Junior Shannon Bogues reset his season high by pumping in 17 points in 27 minutes duty off the bench while fellow third-year man fell one rebound shy of a double-double as he finished with 13 points and nine boards.
Hampered by foul trouble in the 'Jacks' season opener last Saturday afternoon, senior Ivan Canete put in 12 points and added one of SFA's five blocked shots. For the game, SFA's offense operated at a 52.5-percent (31-of-59) shooting clip and held St. Edward's to a mark of 39.7-percent (23-of-58) from the field. SFA also owned a +10 (42-32) advantage on the glass.
Almost before the Lumberjack faithful inside William R. Johnson Coliseum could get comfortable in their seats, the Hilltoppers slugged the 'Jacks with a trio of three-pointers that represented all of the visitors points during a 9-4 run in the first 1:30 of the tilt.
With the Hilltoppers intent on putting their scorching outside shooting touch on display, the 'Jacks elected to work the painted area in order to get back in the game. Throughout the entirety of the opening stanza, SFA scored all of its points in one of two areas - in the paint or at the foul line.
SFA's counterpunch came from multiple individuals, first of which being Canete who put the 'Jacks in front the first time with a pair of free throw makes which made matters 13-11 with 14:03 left in the opening stanza. Bogues answered a dunk by St. Edward's Sean Phillips with a free-throw make and a transition rim-rocker of his own and following Ryan Garza's three-pointer with 11:23 left in the frame to tie things at 16, the 'Jacks pulled ahead for good.
Over the next 4:10, five SFA players pumped in points as part of a 14-3 run by the hosts. That scoring surge helped the 'Jacks' open up a 30-19 edge and the hosts would need all of those scores to hold off the Hilltoppers' subsequent charge.
For a stretch of over 3:30, SFA was held without a field goal and aided by the hosts inaccuracy from the field St. Edward's used a 10-0 run to cut the 'Jacks' lead down to one, 30-29, with 5:09 left in the frame. Harris halted that run with a pair of free throw makes which sparked an 8-0 SFA spurt that allowed the 'Jacks to head into the locker room at the half armed with a 42-34 advantage.
Three-pointers by Landon Goesling and Sean Phillips trimmed the 'Jacks' lead to 46-40 in the early stages of the deciding frame before Leon Gilmore III hiked SFA's advantage to double-digits just before the midway point of the half. The high-flying senior sandwiched a pair of dunks around two free throw makes which helped SFA's lead grow to 60-49 with 10:06 remaining.
The Hilltoppers continued to hang around as Sean Watkins' triple sliced SFA's lead down to 56-63 with 7:43 left before SFA drilled St. Edward's with an 11-1 run culminating with a layup from John Comeaux that made matters 74-57 with 5:48 left.
Freshman Stefon Fisher led the 'Jacks with three assists while Goesling slung in a game-best 19 points to pace the St. Edward's offensive attack.
SFA won't have much time to catch its breath or celebrate Wednesday night's victory as NCAA Division III foe LeTourneau heads inside William R. Johnson Coliseum for a 7:00 p.m. showdown Thursday night. LeTourneau will undoubtedly be hungry to secure another exhibition win over an NCAA Division I squad as they defeated Northwestern State by 15 points Sunday evening in Natchitoches.