NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - There were so many story lines heading into the biggest game to ever take place inside the William R. Johnson Coliseum.
The Sunday afternoon game against the University of Alabama would be the first time, SFA had welcomed an SEC team to Nacogdoches. The game was not looking like a premier matchup just a few weeks ago, with the Jacks on a rollercoaster of a season with 5 key players out of the lineup. Then the team beat Baylor on December 18 with a buzzer beater and the hype was back on for the game.
The team also got a boost tonight with John Comeaux returning from micro fracture surgery and would be available. Comeaux was considered the key to the team’s disruptive defense.
All storylines looked set to make this a memorable game, then the team and university suffered a loss yesterday with the death of former SFA president Baker Patillo. Patillo was not only a supporter of the academic side of the university, he was a visionary of moving the school to NCAA Division I status. Before the game started the team and fans had a moment of silence. Patillo’s seat remained vacant with a purple cloth and flowers placed in it.
“To be honest with you it has been a hard day for me,” Head Coach Kyle Keller said. “One of the things we first talked about was where he thought the program was and where I thought it could go. We had synergy. It is amazing the day after he is in heaven we play Alabama which is where his vision was 30-40 years ago when he took a small college and moved to to a Division I university and it culminated in playing Alabama.”
It was a slow start to the game as both SFA and Alabama looked to shake of rust. Neither team had played for nine days. Bogues, the hero from the Baylor game, led the Jacks in the first half with 17 points. Heading into the break, SFA was down 41-34.
The return of Comeaux was a big boost to the team and the fan base. Comeaux’s 13 points came in 24 minutes of action off of the bench. The Crimson Tide controlled the boards and out rebounded SFA by 17. It would be key on several possessions as SFA would cut the lead to 3 but Alabama would use that advantage and pull back out to an eventual 79-69 win.
“Coach Kyle Keller has done a good job here with SFA,” Alabama Head Coach Avery Johnson said. “I have known Kyle since he was Texas A&M as an assistant and recruited my son. I was worried about coming here and playing in this environment but it is what was best for us to get ready for a tough, tough, tough SEC ad prepare us for some tough environments. When school is not in the crowds can be sparce but wow it was full to near capacity. It was loud. It was as loud as an arena we have played in for a long time. We could have played at home against a much lesser opponent but we needed to get on the road and face this adversity.”
Alabama will now prepare for 16th ranked Kentucky on Janurary 5. SFA will open up Southland Conference play on Wednesday at home against Southeastern Louisiana.
“This is now our season,” Keller said. "I told our guys [the conference] is now going to feel like we felt. We are now the Alabama. We are everyone’s biggest game for the next 18 games in 10 weeks. We have to find a way to get to that magic level.