Lumberjacks Stop McNeese
March 7, 2006
NACOGDOCHES, Texas - A defensive lapse late in last weekend's game at Sam Houston State nearly kept the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjack basketball team from landing the No. 4 seed in the Southland Conference Tournament. Tuesday night, the Lumberjacks turned in a sterling defensive effort late in the game to keep themselves in the tournament. SFA snuffed out a McNeese State rally and scored 19 unanswered points over a six-minute stretch to take a 72-70 victory at the William R. Johnson Coliseum in the first round of the SLC Tournament.
The Lumberjacks (17-11) advance to the tournament semifinals, where they'll meet No. 2 seed Sam Houston State for the second time in five days. In Saturday's regular-season finale against the Bearkats, the Lumberjacks lost a 14-point lead in the game's closing minutes before a 3-pointer by Josh Alexander gave SFA a 73-72 win and the No. 4 seed in the SLC tournament. No. 5 McNeese ends its season with a 14-14 record, after losing to the Lumberjacks for the third time this season.
Junior forward Antuane Miller scored 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds to lead the Lumberjacks past the Cowboys. Senior point guard Marcus Clark recorded a double-double with 10 points and 10 assists in his last home game at SFA. But Clark's most important statistic Tuesday night was the three steals he recorded during the Lumberjacks' game-winning defensive stand.
Against McNeese State, SFA led by as many as 12 points in the first half, when the Lumberjacks shot 61 percent from the field. But the Cowboys put together a 15-2 run in the second half that gave them a 12-point lead with six minutes left. That's when the Lumberjacks went to work.
Clark hit a short jumper to kick-start the rally after an offensive rebound by Jerel Hastings. SFA immediately called a timeout and forced a missed 3-pointer at the other end. Junior forward Antuane Miller hit a pair of free throws to cut the lead to single digits, and Clark swiped a pass from McNeese's John Ford on the ensuing possession. Miller made the turnover sting by converting a three-point play after being fouled on a layup to make it a five-point game (64-59) with 4:09 left.
Another Cowboy turnover put the ball in SFA's hands with 3:31 to play, and junior guard Keith Hardaway tipped home a miss by Miller to trim the lead to three points. Another Clark steal led to a free throw by junior guard Chaz Dykes. Dykes missed his second attempt from the foul stripe, but the Lumberjacks controlled the rebound, and Alexander scored an easy layup off the inbounds pass from Clark to tie the game at 64 with 2:26 remaining.
The Cowboys were on their heels at that point, and the Lumberjacks would not let up. On McNeese's next possession, Clark punched the ball away from Dwight Boatner and into Dykes' hands. Dykes heaved the ball ahead to Clark for a fast-break layup to give SFA the lead. After a missed shot on the Cowboy end, Hardaway pulled down a defensive rebound and stuck a jumper to put the Lumberjacks up by four with 50 seconds left.
The Cowboys missed a tough look from 3-point range on their next possession and then resorted to fouling. SFA connected on 4-of-8 free throws down the stretch to nullify three McNeese foul shots and a desperate 3-pointer by Quentin Gonzalez with one second on the clock.
Miller finished the game 10-of-14 on free throws. His 20 points led all scorers, and his eight rebounds tied the Cowboys' Gonzalez for tops in the contest. Alexander finished with 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting, including a 3-for-8 effort from 3-point range. Hardaway added 11 points and five rebounds. Dykes also pulled down five rebounds.
The two teams shot a dead-even 50 percent from the floor. SFA held a 31-28 edge in rebounding, and the Lumberjacks forced 18 turnovers, while giving the ball up 15 times.
Boatner scored 17 points to pace the Cowboys. Gonzalez added 15, and Ryan Price scored 11.
SFA will continue play in the SLC Tournament Thursday, when the Lumberjacks travel to Huntsville, Texas to take on Sam Houston State in the semifinals. A win would move SFA into the conference championship game for the third time in four years. The game against the Bearkats is set to tip off at 7 p.m. from Bernard G. Johnson Coliseum.
- SFA -