It wasn’t a pretty victory, but sometimes the ‘ugly’ wins have more soul to them. That was the case for the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks Wednesday night as they never trailed third-place Nicholls in the 40-minute contest, recording a 70-64 victory inside William R. Johnson Coliseum for SFA’s 20th win of the year and seventh straight overall.
The victory for the ’Jacks (20-3, 11-1 SLC), combined with Sam Houston’s 72-71 overtime loss to Incarnate Word (7-16, 3-8 SLC), stretches the SFA’s Southland lead over the Bearkats (15-9, 8-4 SLC) and the Colonels (14-9, 8-4 SLC) to three fulls games with eight game left in the regular season.
“I give Nicholls a lot of credit, that’s the way they play,” SFA head coach Kyle Keller said of the lack of smoothness in his team’s execution. “They got us out of whack. I thought the first half was great defensively for our guys. I thought our defense played phenomenal.
“To be honest, I didn’t think the second half would go as well defensively, but I thought if we could rebound we would be in good shape. We just couldn’t shake them.”
SFA did win the battle of the boards, finishing with 12 more rebound (39-27) than the Colonels. Nate Bain led the Lumberjacks with nine boards, to go along with a game-high 17 points and three assists. Cameron Johnson came off the bench to add six boards, while Gavin Kensmil, Kevon Harris and Roti Ware posted four each. The ’Jacks outscored NU 18-6 on second-chance points.
Harris, who entered the game as the leading scorer on the team, was held without a point in the first 20 minutes. Nevertheless, the ’Jacks stayed on course, opening up a 32-22 lead at the break, while holding the Colonels to only 39.1% (9-of-23) shooting from the field.
Bain picked up the scoring slack, finished the first half with a team-high eight points.
“Every day coach tells me that you’ve got to try to lead guys and pick them up,” Bain said after the game. “I told Kevon I was going to have his back if people were going to play him the way they have. It’s a team effort; moving the ball, getting rebounds and everybody working together.”
Harris scored 10 points in the final 10 minutes, finishing in a tie with Ware and senior John Comeaux, who also dropped in 10 points apiece. Kensmil added eight points and Johnson chipped in six.
Kevin Johnson and Andre Jones each scored 13 points to lead the Colonels. Alatishe Warith posted a double-double with 11 points and 10 boards.
Bain landed a trey to start things off, and SFA led by as many as 10 in the first 20 minutes.
The Colonels fought back in the second half, pulling to as close as three (46-43) with 11:38 remaining, But the Lumberjacks were able to widen the gap back to 10 points on four separate occasions in the final period, forcing Nicholls in foul trouble and connected on 11 of their last 12 free throws to close the game out and take the six-point victory.