NACOGDOCHES, TX (News Release) - The law of averages reads as such: it is a principle that supposes most future events are likely to balance any past deviation from a presumed average.
The Stephen F. Austin men's basketball team, who failed to hit a three-pointer last Saturday and had their run of four-straight Southland Conference regular season titles snapped last season by New Orleans, put truth into that law yet again Wednesday night.
After coming out of the gates like gangbusters, SFA withstood a continued charge by New Orleans by receiving a team-high 23 points from senior Ivan Canete and ending the game on a 14-2 run through the final 4:03 to secure a hard-fought 78-68 triumph over the Privateers inside William R. Johnson Coliseum.
Although the 'Jacks never fell behind in their battle with the defending Southland Conference champions, they took every punch the Privateers threw at them as the visitors cut SFA's once-comfortable 15-point lead down to two on three occasions in the last 6:57 of the high-profile league fracas.
"Our guys had a great edge about them to start the game, but it was disappointing that we weren't able to sustain it for a full 40 minutes," stated SFA head coach Kyle Keller who secured his 32nd win as the 'Jacks bench boss, bringing him into a tie for 10th place in program history in terms of career coaching triumphs.
"That's all a result of our opponent, though. New Orleans is a good team with tough kids and tough coaches," Keller continued. "Our guys knew who we were playing, though. The trophy is back at their place and we want to continue playing well so we can take it back."
On the heels of an 0-for-7 showing from three-point range Saturday afternoon in Natchitoches, La., Canete was far more accurate back in his home state. The Lake Worth, Fla., product splashed five long range buckets, none bigger than his step-back job with 4:03 to go which pushed the 'Jacks' lead back to five, 67-62.
Canete got it done in other areas, too, as his second and final assist of the night came on a two-handed jam by Kevon Harris that extended the hosts' edge to 71-63 with 2:24 remaining and upped the point total of the Ellenwood, Ga., product to 11.
TJ Holyfield contributed 15 points, five rebounds and three assists to SFA's efforts but the most pleasant surprise of the night came from senior Ty Charles. All the Kennedale, Texas, product did in 31 minutes off of the bench was pump in 12 points and finished with nine rebounds - both seasons highs - while bringing some much-needed energy and toughness to the 'Jacks' corner.
"Ty and I had a heart-to-heart the other day," commented Keller on the play of his veteran leader. "He went to work the last two days, not just on the court but off the court in order to elevate himself to the level that his team needed him to be at.
Both teams finished in a relative dead heat in terms of field goal percentage (SFA 48.3-percent, UNO 48.1-percent), but the 'Jacks forced 18 turnovers and shot 41.2-percent (7-of-17) from three-point land to help avenge a 17-point setback to the Privateers in the Big East last February.
All of the energy the SFA faithful brought with them into William R. Johnson Coliseum seemed to rub off onto the 'Jacks themselves who received buckets from five different players as part of a 15-2 run through the game's first 5:56.
Back-to-back scores down low from Holyfield pushed the hosts' edge to 15, 19-4, but the defending Southland Conference champions, determined not to get run out of the building, started mounting their comeback by using a heavy dose of Travin Thibodeaux.
The 'Jacks' once-comfortable double-digit lead dwindled all the way down to eight, 22-14, with 8:09 remaining in the frame as Thibodeaux pumped in eight of the Privateers' points during their ensuing 11-3 scoring spree.
As the half wore on, Thibodeaux continued to menace the 'Jacks, drilling a mid-range jumper that cut the hosts' lead to just five, 30-25, with 59 ticks to go in the frame. Through the final 12:38 of the half, SFA connected on only three field goals but went 7-of-8 from the free throw line in that span to help offset their offensive woes.
Holyfield started the second half with a layup that extended the 'Jacks' lead back to double-digits, 35-25. With 17:31 to go in the game, Canete called buckets on a three-pointer which hiked SFA's lead to 42-30 but the Privateers never said die.
Only 18 of the Privateers' 43 second-half points came from places other than the free throw line and in the paint and with their offense humming along at a high rate of efficiency, Keller called for his troops to drop into a zone defense for the final 10 minutes to try and slow down the visitors.
Damion Rosser's layup with 4:33 to go trimmed the 'Jacks' lead to just two, 64-62, for the final time. Following Canete's final three of the night, Charles absorbed a good deal of contact from Makur Puou down low but finished a layup nevertheless, Harris tossed down his aforementioned dunk, Holyfield came up with a second chance layup and the 'Jacks hit five of their final six free throws in the last 50 seconds to lock up their 11th-straight home victory.
Thibodeaux put on a show for the Privateers in their losing effort, however, exploding for a game-high 24 points on 10-of-13 shooting to go along with seven rebounds and five assists. Champion added 11 for New Orleans while Michael Zeno finished with 10.