After disappointing road loss, SFA dominates Nicholls State

From SFA Athletics

Every single thing the Stephen F. Austin men's basketball team lacked in its disappointing Southland Conference opener less than one week ago was present and accounted for Wednesday night.

That did not bode well for Nicholls State.

Led by Ivan Canete's team-high 17 points and TJ Holyfield's first double-double (15 points, 11 rebounds) of the season, SFA put the clamps on Nicholls hot-handed offense and ripped the Colonels 81-64 to claim its first Southland Conference triumph of the season inside William R. Johnson Coliseum.

Coming into the tilt, Nicholls - who was off to a 2-0 start in Southland action - averaged 88.5 points per game. That was before running into a stout SFA defense which looked every bit as dominant as it had in its multiple non-conference showings by holding the Colonels to a 38.2-percent (21-of-55) night from the field which included a 21.7-percent (5-of-23) accuracy rate from three-point land.

SFA, who also forced 23 turnovers, received the balance it sorely lacked in its league opener last Thursday night against Southeastern Louisiana, too, as Canete and Holyfield were two of five 'Jacks who finished with 10 or more points. Sophomore John Comeaux tied a career-high with 13 points while Shannon Bogues (11) and Leon Gilmore III (10) reached double-digits as well.

"Tonight was purely about how well we could respond, and I thought our guys played kind of angry which is something I wanted to see," remarked SFA head coach Kyle Keller. "Our whole identity is about disruption and as a coach it's fun to watch an opponent try and figure out how to get a shot up against our defense. We took them out of what they wanted to do and didn't let them run their offense."

Right out of the gates, the 'Jacks made sure Nicholls couldn't unleash its high-powered offense by holding the Colonels without a field goal in the first 5:37 of the game. SFA's offense didn't suffer nearly as bad as the Colonels did as the 'Jacks used some aggressive drives to the basket to gain an early lead.

Five of the 'Jacks' first seven points of the game came from the free throw line where the hosts went 11-of-14 (78.6-percent) in the opening half. After getting a double-digit scoring outing from only one player in their Southland Conference opener last Thursday night, SFA made it a point to get everyone involved in the offense throughout the opening stanza.

Allowing only two field goal makes by the Colonels in the first 9:29 of the game, the 'Jacks earned their first double-digit lead of the night when Ivan Caneteabsorbed some contact down low and converted a fast-break layup to put the hosts up 19-9.

Nicholls managed to whittle SFA's lead down to seven points following a Lafayette Rutledge three-pointer at the 9:57 mark of the frame, but the 'Jacks response came in the form of a a 13-4 run featuring scores from five different players to increase SFA's edge to 36-20 with 5:01 to go in the frame.

The Colonels had one final push in them, however, ending the first half on an 11-4 scoring surge culminating with a triple by Kevin Johnson just before the halftime horn sounded to trim the 'Jacks' once double-digit lead down to nine, 40-31.

"I thought the first 13 or 14 minutes the first half was as good as we've played defensively all year," Keller continued. "We were really smokin' which was so big because of Nicholls' view of this team. They're coming in with the mindset, 'OK, if we win this one, we can win the league.'"

Once the final frame started, only 4:24 was required for SFA to put the game away for good. Propelled by the duo of Canete and Comeaux, the 'Jacks watched their lead increase to 20 as the aforementioned duo scored all but two points during a 13-2 SFA surge to start the stanza. Canete splashed a pair of long-range shots during the surge while Comeaux added a pair of buckets and a free throw make, helping SFA push its edge to 53-33.

Nicholls never pulled closer than 16 points away for the rest of the game and it was Canete who handed the 'Jacks their largest lead of the night when his third and final downtown hit made matters 74-50 with 4:34 left.

Roddy Peters pumped in a game-high 25 points on 8-of-16 shooting for the Colonels while Tevon Saddler added 17. No other Nicholls player finished with more than seven points, however. Sophomore Aaron Augustin finished with a game-high five assists for the 'Jacks who held a 16-10 edge in that statistical category at the end of the night.

Saturday afternoon, the 'Jacks take a short jaunt to Natchitoches, La., with revenge on their minds when they hit the court against Northwestern State at 3:30 p.m. The Demons, who are still in search of their first Southland Conference triumph of the season, prevented the 'Jacks from clinching at least a share of their fifth-straight Southland Conference regular season title last season by grabbing a 72-67 win over SFA on March 2, 2016, inside William R. Johnson Coliseum.