It was a tale of two halves inside William R. Johnson Coliseum on Wednesday night, as the Stephen F. Austin women's basketball team battled back from a disjointed opening half of play to defeat McNeese 73-58. A 50-point second half provided the offense that the 'Jacks (18-4, 10-1 SLC) were sorely missing in the first half, and decisive runs in the third and fourth quarters of play proved to be the difference maker.
Taylor Jackson notched her second straight 20-point game, finishing with 21 points to go along with three boards, five assists and four steals. Stevi Parker notched 17 points and eight boards, while Chanell Hayes contributed 14 points and seven caroms.
After suffering its first loss in nearly two months on Saturday, a strong bounce back performance seemed to be in order for the Stephen F. Austin women's basketball team at home on Wednesday. Instead, the Ladyjacks put forth an uninspired first half performance and shot just 33 percent in the opening half of play. Fortunately, the Cowgirls posted an equally anemic opening half and would carry just a 26-23 lead at the halftime break due to 35 percent shooting and eight turnovers.
"I thought we were a little sluggish in the first half, and not to say that I expected it, but coming off the emotional game at Lamar I thought we might lack a little bit of that rhythm," said SFA head coach Mark Kellogg. "We weren't as active, we weren't on the floor first, they were beating us on the boards and all the hustle plays, so it was a little disappointing, but not completely surprised by it. We defended well enough to keep us in it, McNeese missed some shots they'd probably like to have back, and then we finally settled in, made a few runs and for the most part we controlled it from then on."
A lack of offensive rhythm could be chalked up to the emotional loss on Saturday, but for SFA to prevail in the contest, it couldn't linger into the second half of play.
"I thought we got back to our identity much more in the second half, we didn't play our cleanest game, by no means was it our best performance of the year, but we did enough, had a few players make plays, and that gaps it and gives us enough cushion to finish it off," said Kellogg.
Coming out of the locker room with an improved energy and sense of urgency, the Ladyjacks would tie the game up at 30 apiece courtesy of a three-pointer and layup from Hayes on consecutive possessions. That was just the beginning, however, as the buckets by Hayes ignited a 13-2 run over three minutes to give SFA a 38-30 lead by the time it was all over. Just as the Ladyjacks appeared poised to put the game on ice and continue the run, a blatant charge drawn by Parker was instead called a block, leading to two foul shots for the Cowgirls, the openings of a small 6-0 run to claw back into the affair. A leaning jumper by Jackson with 43 ticks left in the third would give the Ladyjacks a tenuous 42-38 lead heading into the final quarter of play.
If the theme of the third quarter was taking back the lead, then the theme of the fourth quarter was to put the game away for good. Opening up the quarter with just the fifth three-pointer of the game courtesy of freshman Marissa Banfield, the 'Jacks set the tone for the fourth quarter early. After a McNeese basket cut the score to 50-44 with seven minutes remaining, the Ladyjacks responded with another trey by Banfield, a Parker jumper and a layup by Jackson in short order to boost the lead to 57-44. That lead would dip below double-digits just once for the remaining three and a half minutes of play, but the cushion afforded by the earlier run proved to much for McNeese to overcome.
"That's what our game is (making runs), basketball is a game of making runs, its about who makes the most and who sustains them the longest, that's who traditionally wins," said Kellogg. "There hadn't been a ton of runs in that first half, and then we finally got it tied up off that run and then went on another run right after it to give us a little cushion. They went on a run right back at us and then from that point on it was pretty good. Our kids feed off of it, it's fun and when we're scoring, our team has traditionally defended better as well."
Stephen F. Austin finished the game shooting 42.6 percent (23-54), thanks in large part to a 7-16 effort from the field in the third and 8-14 mark in the fourth quarter. After hitting just two three-pointers through the first three quarters of play, the 'Jacks went 5-7 from beyond the arc in the fourth and finished the contest at 26.9 percent (7-26) from deep. Brunnberg and Banfield each hit a pair of treys apiece, while Parker, Jackson and Hayes each hit one.
Despite facing one of the strongest rebounding teams in the conference, the Ladyjacks were only out-rebounded 38-36 in the contest, although 19 offensive boards for the Cowgirls loomed large in second chance points, of which McNeese had 20. Not surprisingly, the Cowgirls controlled the paint to the tune of a 32-20 advantage in points there, and even held a small advantage in points off turnovers (18-14). Where the Ladyjacks crafted their biggest advantage was in second half scoring, where SFA tallied nearly as many points in the fourth quarter alone (31) as McNeese did in the entire half (32), and notched 50 second-half points in total.
Next up for SFA is a rivalry game rematch against Northwestern State on Saturday inside William R. Johnson Coliseum, where the 'Jacks have built a 14-game winning streak that dates back to last season. The game will also feature a reunion of former Ladyjack basketball players, as all former SFA WBB players are invited to return and be recognized for their years spent representing the Ladyjacks.