Over the last five seasons, four cities in the United States of American have housed NCAA Division I men's basketball teams that are almost impossible to beat when playing on their respective home floors: Lawrence, Kan.; Nacogdoches, Texas; Tuscon, Ariz.; and Ruston, La.
Wednesday night, inside the borders of the last city on that list, the Stephen F. Austin men's basketball team did something only four other opposing teams had done there in five years.
Capping a 25-point performance by finshing a left-handed, game-winning layup with less than five seconds to go, sophomore Kevon Harris helped the 'Jacks hand Louisiana Tech only its fifth home loss since the start of the 2012-13 season in a thrilling 85-83 SFA triumph inside the Thomas Assembly Center. Prior to Wednesday, the Bulldogs had constructed a 79-4 record inside Thomas Assembly Center over the last five-plus seasons - a record that rivaled the 'Jacks' storied stretch in William R. Johnson Coliseum.
Not only did SFA face a daunting task when entering one of the nation's most difficult venues for opponents to win in recent memory, it ran into a Louisiana Tech squad that absolutely scorched the nets - especially from three-point range. For the game, the Bulldogs drilled 54.3-percent (25-of-46) of their free throws and an incredible 68.8-percent (11-of-16) of their three-point tries.
No slouch shooting themselves, the 'Jacks shot .500/.467/.714 for the night in a tilt where defense seemed almost secondary.
When it mattered most, however, SFA's defense challenged Louisiana Tech just enough to earn the win. Only committing 10 turnovers, the 'Jacks racked up 12 steals and received points from nine of the 10 players who took part in the hotly-contested hoops war. Senior Ivan Canete added 14 while junior TJ Holyfield put in 11 inside the building where SFA head coach Kyle Keller began his collegiate coaching career as an assistant over 27 years ago.
"It's kind of ironic when you think about it," commented a sopping wet Keller following a post-game water cooler drenching by his team. "All those years ago Louisiana Tech took a chance on me just like SFA did in April of 2016.
"Believe it or not I was really calm the wole game," continued Keller. "When your players work hard, you can reap some benefits. That's two games in a row where guys have risen up and made plays and the difference tonight was that we were able to make some jump shots."
Opposing offensive styles squared off in the early portion of the first frame as the 'Jacks registered all 10 of their first points in the painted area. Conversely, the Bulldogs received a pair of three-pointers from DaQuan Bracey as well as four free throws to account for a 10-10 deadlock with 14:32 left in the half.
That tie was the first of five throughout the first 20 minutes of action and although seven SFA players pumped in points through the first frame it was Harris who stole the show for the visitors during that span. Facing a 19-12 deficit, SFA received points from five different players during an 11-2 run which gave the visitors their first least of the game - 23-21.
Harris tossed down the first of his two highlight-reel dunks during that run and added a three-pointer and two layups to help SFA push its lead to 38-29 with 3:19 remaining in the half.
What looked like a comfortable lead for the visitors evaporated quickly thanks to a late offensive onslaught by the Bulldogs. Derric Jean headed up the hosts 10-0 run through the closing 2:06 of the first half, pumping in the last of Louisiana Tech's five three-pointers and adding a three-point play with a layup and a foul shot with 31 seconds remaining that put the 'Jacks at a 39-38 disadvantage at the break.
By the time it was all said and done early in the second half, Louisiana Tech had clocked the 'Jacks with a 16-0 run capped with a one-handed throwdown by Jacobi Boykins. That rim-rocker put SFA down 45-38 with 18:27 left before Holyfield showed up to the party on offense.
After being held without a field goal in the first half, SFA's high-scoring junior went on a personal 5-0 run consisting of a two-handed dunk as well as a three-pointer from the right wing that cut the hosts' lead to 45-43.
Holyfield's buckets represented a big part of the 'Jacks' larger 11-2 run that spanned 2:05 and ended with two free throws from Canete which handed the visitors a 49-47 edge. Those free throws shoot the senior out of his offensive funk, too, and he delivered a three-pointer right as the shot clock expired to push the visitors lead to 66-60 with 8:38 left.
Staked to their largest lead of the frame, the 'Jacks continued to struggle defensively against the hot-shooting Bulldogs who showed little interest in missing. Over the next 3:51, the Bulldogs tried to knock the 'Jacks out with a 15-4 run which startedd with another long-range hit from Jean and ended with a 30-foot triple from Bracey to put Louisiana Tech on top 75-70 with 4:30 left.
Just when matters turned as bleak as they had all night, SFA's will to win took over. In just his third game back, senior Ty Charles starte and finished an 11-2 Lumberjack run with layups that pushed SFA back on top 81-77.
Louisiana Tech's Jacobi Boykins drilled yet another triple, this one with 1:01 left, that cut the 'Jacks' lead to 81-80 but Charles proved to be the x-factor yet again. The Kennedale, Texas, product corralled a crucial offensive rebound off of a missed SFA three-pointer and put in a pair of free throws that lifted the 'Jacks' lead to 83-80 with 29 seconds left. Although Boykins tied the game with his three-pointer with 17 ticks to go, Harris' game winner proved to be the trump card.
Bracey led all Louisiana Tech scorers with 19 while Boykins and Jean pumped in 16 apiece.
Still in possession of its best start since the 2012-13 campaign, the 'Jacks make a return trip to William R. Johnson Coliseum where they will do battle with another C-USA program at 2:00 p.m. Saturday afternoon. Rice heads from Houston to Nacogdoches that day to play SFA at home for the first time since 2001.