A strong first-half defensive effort set the scene for the Stephen F. Austin women's basketball team, and a balanced scoring effort by the team did the rest, as SFA downed Southeastern Louisiana 79-67 at home on Thursday to close out the 2017 year. Five Ladyjacks finished with double-digit points, led by a season-high 20 points from Imani Johnson, as the team improved to 9-3 overall and 7-0 at home.
Stevi Parker posted her sixth double-double of the season with a 10-point, 14-rebound effort, while Chanell Hayes (10), Taylor Jackson (12) and Marissa Banfield (11) each finished reached the double-digit tally. Johnson also pulled down seven rebounds in the contest and had a pair each of steals and assists.
SFA's last game in December wasn't its sharpest in several facets of the game, as the Ladyjacks had a relatively docile shooting night at 39.3 percent (22-56), and were outrebounded by the Lady Lions by a small margin. SLU also bounced back in the second half to post 48 second-half points, turning a 20+ point game into a single digit margin before the Ladyjacks were able to regain composure and shut the door on the visitors.
"I thought there were some really good moments," said SFA head coach Mark Kellogg. "Most of those were early, in the first half, but there were also some good moments in the second half. It was hopefully a learning experience, we'll grow up from it. We were fairly balanced offensively, we got to the free throw line as we've traditionally done this year, so those were signs of us at our best."
A good start is a recipe for success in all things, and basketball is no different. Johnson came to play from the onset, staking SFA out to a 6-0 lead with a pair of buckets inside and two free throws, part of a 10-11 effort at the stripe on the evening. SFA's defense was also stalwart through the opening stanza, forcing three straight SLU turnovers to open the contest and helping SFA out to a 12-0 lead before the first Lady Lion bucket was scored nearly five minutes into the contest. The Ladyjacks would close out the first quarter on a 10-2 run, including four straight free throws with eight seconds left after a personal foul and technical foul were called on a Lady Lions player.
The second quarter saw the Ladyjacks cool off slightly from the field, but still score 18 points in the quarter as four of their six makes in the frame came from beyond the arc. Freshman Marissa Banfield hit twice from beyond the arc in the quarter, along with makes from Taylor Jackson and Kennedy Harris. Nevertheless, the defense continued to lead the charge for SFA, as SLU committed seven turnovers and shot just 3-16 from the field in the quarter. SFA would take a commanding 42-19 lead into the halftime break, having already made 16 trips to the free throw line and forced 16 Lady Lion turnovers. By all accounts, the game appeared headed for more of the same in the second half, but as it turned out, the visitors from Hammond had different plans.
Even a wounded lion is dangerous, and SLU came out of the locker room firing in the third period. Two quick layups opened up the frame for the Lady Lions, and four three-point baskets spread throughout the quarter helped SLU outscored the hosts 23-18 in the quarter. Flipping the script on the hosts, the Lady Lions used an 13-4 run from halfway through the quarter to get the lead down to 16 with a minute left in the quarter (55-39). Parker responded with a very deep three-pointer to beat the shot clock with 32 seconds left, and after a trifecta to answer from SLU's Taylin Underwood on the other end, Parker got the last laugh with an offensive rebound and putback to beat the buzzer on the third quarter and get the 'Jacks lead to 60-42 entering the final quarter of play.
"In the third quarter we kind of let up, our defensive intensity wasn't very good, we didn't turn them over any and they got back into it." Kellogg added. "The disappointing thing is that they're a pretty good three-point shooting team and we let them play to their strength. They made the run and got it down to nine, and we got it right back up to eleven, but to give up 48 points in the second half no matter who you're playing is just not going to get it done. We'll get that fixed and then we'll take the show on the road."
Undeterred, Southeastern Louisiana kept the pressure up in the fourth quarter, converting on 53 percent of its shots (8-15) and hitting 4-8 attempts from beyond the arc. After the Ladyjacks opened the fourth quarter scoring with a pair of free throws from Alyssa Mayfield, SLU went on a 14-3 run over the next two minutes to trim the lead down to just nine points at 65-56, the closest the game had been since the 9:09 mark of the second quarter. The 'Jacks responded to the threat with four quick points, and slowly built the lead back up into double-digits over the remainder of the quarter while sinking free throws down the stretch to ice the game.
The Ladyjacks finished the contest 28-35 (80 percent) from the free throw line in the victory, and scored 26 points off of 20 SLU turnovers. SFA's bench narrowly outscored their counterparts at 21-19.
Next up for the Ladyjacks is a gauntlet of conference road games through Louisiana. SFA will play Nicholls on Jan. 3, Northwestern State on the 6th and the University of New Orleans on the 10th.