Shooting woes and the inability to take control with a packed house on their side, led to a tough 71-66 loss for the SFA Lumberjacks to Lamar. It was the second loss to Lamar on the season. It was only the fourth time the team has lost in Nacogdoches since the 2012-13 season.
TJ Holyfield posted his second double-double of the season, springing for a team-high 14 points and finishing it with a game-best 11 rebounds, but the Stephen F. Austin men's basketball team was unable to keep up with a Lamar squad that received a game-high 23 points from Nick Garth and dictated the tempo for the majority of the game to pull a 71-66 upset over the 'Jacks inside William R. Johnson Coliseum Saturday night.
In all, five 'Jacks finished with 10 or more points including Kevon Harris (11), Ivan Canete (11), Ty Charles (10) and Leon Gilmore III (10), but Lamar led for the vast majority of the game and limited the best three-point shooting team in the Southland Conference to a 6-of-24 (25-percent) showing from long distance. With the loss, the 'Jacks hopes for a fifth Southland Conference title in the past six seasons took a major hit as SFA dipped to third place in the league standings with the loss. SFA now sits two games behind league-leader Nicholls and one game back of second-place Southeastern Louisiana with two regular season games to go.
"I never really felt like we were in the game," admitted SFA head coach Kyle Keller after the nation's fourth-longest home court winning streak came to a screeching half. "Unfortunately it was a lot like what happened down in Beaumont earlier in the month where they ran what they wanted to run. We didn't dictate anything and that's real disappointing on our part."
Garth's success was mostly from three-point range where the Cardinals connected at a 40-percent clip (10-of-25). He finished with six triples - the same amount as SFA - and the 'Jacks' bench scoring production was extremely limited in the setback as well. After getting 45 or more points from their reserves in four of their past five games, the 'Jacks received only 15 Saturday night in only their fourth home loss since the 2012-13 campaign.
Four of the game's first six points went to the 'Jacks, but the early 4-2 lead SFA established was its only one of the opening stanza. Much of that had to do with SFA's inability to hit shots as the hosts connected on just 29.2-percent (7-of-24) of their tries from the field.
"One of their goals was to make it really hard for us to get the ball in the paint," Keller continued. "We finished with 28 inside, but a lot of the time we settled for jump shots and worried too much that our shots weren't falling."
Early on, neither team held a lead of greater than three points and Gilmore III brought about the fifth and final deadlock of the half by hitting a pair of free throws which made matters 16-16 with 12:44 left in the half. After those makes, however, the 'Jacks were held scoreless for 4:21 and watched Lamar - specifically Nick Garth - get hot from long range.
The Cardinals' high-volume shooter drained three of his four first-half three-pointers, keying a 13-2 Lamar run which pushed the visitors ahead 29-18 with 7:55 to go in the half. Finally, after a stretch of 6:29, Gilmore III ended an SFA field goal drought by driving and scoring on a reverse layup that pulled the hosts within single digits at the 7:31 mark of the frame.
Shoring up their defense in the late stages of the frame, SFA allowed only two field goal makes by the Cardinals over the final 8:36 of the half and used some strong free throw shooting numbers to make sure Lamar couldn't establish too large of a lead.
SFA went 10-of-13 from the charity stripe through the first 20 minutes of action and trailed by just seven after Gilmore III shook his defender and delivered another layup with 1:04 left in the half.
Coming out of the second half hoping to recapture the lead for good, the 'Jacks netted nine of the first 12 points of the second half and cut the Cardinals' lead down to just one, 36-35, following Canete's three-pointer with 15:47 to go in the half. After that, however, Lamar embarked on another one-sided scoring run - this one of the 13-1 variety - to claim a 49-37 edge with 12:54 left.
Every time the hosts attempted to chip away at the visitors' double-digit edge, Lamar had an answer. Layups from Canete and Holyfield shrank the Cardinals' advantage from 11 points down to seven, 56-49, with 7:44 left, but a three-pointer by T.J. Atwood hiked the visitors' lead right back up to double-digits with 6:49 to go.
Once again, the 'Jacks' defense showed fight in the game's final stages. SFA held Lamar to only one field goal make through the final 6:05, but the Cardinals held off the 'Jacks by sinking five of six free throws in the final 38 seconds of the game. Harris registered a tip-in with 15 ticks to go, trimming Lamar's lead to 69-66, but Joey Frenchwood's two free throw makes with 12 seconds left made the Cardinals' lead insurmountable.
"We scored 40 points in the second half - more than enough to win - but our defense let us down. It was just an ugly basketball game for us," finished Keller.
Frenchwood added 13 or the Cardinals while Zjori Bosha posted 10. SFA forced 14 Lamar turnovers but notched just six points off of those throwaways - their lowest total of the 2017-18 campaign.