On a emotional night which began with three seniors playing their final game on the home floor of The Sawmill with the Southland Conference Championship all sewn up, and ended with one of the celebrated players — senior Nathan Bain — requesting and receiving his girlfriend’s hand in marriage in front of his and her families at the end of Senior Night ceremonies, nothing could be better for the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks.
Oh yeah, and SFA won.
Despite a jittery start and only a one-point halftime lead over arch-rival Sam Houston State, the ’Jacks exploded out of their fog midway through the final half with an 18-0 run over a span of 5:32 to complete a dominating 19-1 Southland Conference mark and stretching their winning streak to 15 games with a 68-57 victory over the Bearkats in William R. Johnson Coliseum.
The Lumberjacks, who are just three spots out of the AP Top 25 this week, improved to 28-3 on the year and will take the No. 1 seed and a double-bye into the Southland Conference Postseason Tournament this week. SFA will not have to play until the semifinals in the Leonared E. Merrell Center in Katy on Friday night at 5 p.m., when they will be rested and battle either Sam Houston or the survivor of the first-round game between Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Northwestern State.
No. 8-seed Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (14-17) will take on No. 5 Northwestern State (14-15) in a first-round game on Wednesday at 5 p.m., while No. 7 McNeese (15-16) will square off against No. 6 Lamar (16-15) at 7:30 p.m. in the other first-round matchup.
No. 4-seed Sam Houston (18-13) will play the A&M-CC/Northwestern State winner on Thursday at 5 p.m., while No. 3 Nicholls (21-10) will battle the McNeese-Lamar survivor at 7:30 p.m.
SFA, along with No. 2-seed Abilene Christian (20-11) will receive double-byes until Friday’s semifinals. The championship game is set for Saturday at 8:30 p.m.
Lumberjack junior post Gavin Kensmil led the balanced SFA attack against Sam Houston, outmuscling the Bearkat defense to hit 7-of-11 field goals, scoring 17 points, to go along with 10 boards. Juniors Roti Ware and Cameron Johnson both added 13 points and five boards, while seniors Kevon Harris and John Comeaux chipped in eight points. Comeaux recorded five steals and a pair of boards.
SFA turned 25 Sam Houston turnovers into 28 points, while the ’Kats scored 19 points off 20 ’Jack miscues.
Kai Mitchell paced the Bearkats with 16 points and eight rebounds.
SFA held a slim 35-34 lead at the break, but improved its shooting percentage from 39.3% in the first half to 48% in the final 20 minutes. The ’Jacks trailed 45-40 with 13:57 remaining and scored 18 straight points beginning at the 11:06 mark and when the run ended at the 5:34 mark SFA was well on its way to the win.