From SFA Athletics
Down by seven early in the first half to the only Southland Conference team in almost 20 years that ran the score all the way up to 100 against it in the last confrontation between the two schools, Stephen F. Austin junior Shannon Bogues geared up to attempt his first free throw after getting fouled on a three-point try - an eventual make which added to his team-high 18 points.
"Make it tough on them."
Canete nodded in agreement and the 'Jacks proceeded to follow Keller's one line of instruction to the letter for the remainder of the game.
Neutralizing not only one of the most potent offensive attacks in all of NCAA Division I basketball but the nation's second-leading scorer as well, SFA earned the revenge it had been seeking against Central Arkansas, blasting the Bears 97-62 inside William R. Johnson Coliseum Wednesday night.
Decimated by an unrelenting long range barrage in its encounter with the Bears up in Conway in late January, SFA made sure to contest every single shot Central Arkansas hoisted up from downtown. That paid off as the 'Jacks held UCA to its lowest point total in over one calendar year on just 32.3-percent shooting from the field (20-of-62) which included a lowly 25-percent (6-of-25) showing from distance.
"Tonight was all about pride to us," noted Keller following the 'Jacks' third-most lopsided win over Central Arkansas in program history. "All week long we talked about taking back the pride in our defense that we lost against them the last time we played. We tried to take away every single possible angle they could use to their advantage and slowing down Howard was imperative for us as well."
It marked the fifth-straight win for the 'Jacks who shot 56.9-percent (37-of-65) from the field while continuing to maintain the Southland's top three-point field goal percentage after drilling 45.8-percent (11-of-24) of their tries from beyond the arc.
Aside from Bogues - who continued his run of scorching hot downtown swishing by going 4-of-5 - four other 'Jacks posted double-digits in the lopsided win including Leon Gilmore III (17), Canete (10), Ty Charles (10) and John Comeaux (10). While he didn't get to 10 points, junior TJ Holyfield made some history by became the 29th player in SFA history to reach 1,000 points in his career with his driving layup that represented SFA's first basket of the game.
"Not a lot of teams are truly able to reach their ceiling, but we are just starting to put our arms up to try and reach ours," Keller continued after witnessing his squad dish out 22 assists in an exemplary effort to find any open man. "There is still so, so much we cam accomplish, but tonight was a step in the right direction.
Howard, who shredded the 'Jacks for a career-high 43 point in the the last meeting between the two programs, nailed the first of his two three-pointers as part of a 9-2 run by the Bears to open the game. Central Arkansas' seven-point lead remained after Howard connected on another jumper with 14:56 left in the opening frame that made matters 14-7, but that field goal would be the last one - and the last points - the Bears would amass for quite some time.
Over the next 6:25, the 'Jacks took control by belting the Bears with a scoring run of the 22-1 variety. SFA's offensive haymaker turned their seven-point deficit into a 14-point lead with 8:31 left in the opening frame and from then on the 'Jacks' edge dipped below 10 points just one time.
Howard's second and last three-pointer of the night for the Bears cut SFA's double-digit lead down to 33-24 at the 5:23 mark before Gilmore III spearheaded the 'Jacks' 16-6 run to close out the stanza and take a 19-point lead into the half. SFA's senior netted nine straight points during that scoring spree and - by and large - the 'Jacks got what they wanted where they wanted it from an offensive standpoint.
Jovan Grujic connected on one of his two free throw tries late in the second half to push the home team's edge to 42 (93-51) with 3:45. That was SFA's largest lead of the game as the 'Jacks mostly coasted through the second half en route to the win.
A high-tempo team in their own right, the Bears were simply overpowered by the 'Jacks' speed. SFA enjoyed a 22-2 edge in fast break scoring and got what it wanted in the paint, too, by finishing with a 46-18 advantage in points in the paint.
Howard finished with a game-high 19 points but it took him 18 shots to do so. Mathieu Kamba added 13 for the Bears who remain one game ahead of McNeese for the eighth and final spot in the Southland Conference standings with three regular season games to go.
Currently, SFA sits in a tie for second place in the Southland Conference standings with Southeastern Louisiana. Both teams still trail league-leading Nicholls by one game meaning each of the 'Jacks' three remaining regular season games looms large over their chances on capturing a fifth Southland Conference regular season title in the last six seasons.