Battle of The Piney Woods, Part 2
Feb. 19, 2008
NACOGDOCHES, Texas - A five-state regional television audience will turn its attention to the Piney Woods Thursday night as the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks square off with rival Sam Houston State in a Southland Conference basketball showdown. The crucial game between SLC West Division foes is set to tip off at 7 p.m. and will be broadcast on Fox Sports Net-Southwest.
Each team can boast some impressive wins this season. SFA pulled off perhaps the biggest upset in school history on Dec. 8, when the Lumberjacks took a 66-62 victory at Oklahoma. SFA went on to collect another road win at SMU, knocking off the Mustangs, 61-58, on Dec. 30, as part of a 10-game winning streak. Sam Houston's big non-conference wins this season include home verdicts against Texas Tech (56-54 on Nov. 14) and Fresno State (68-57 on Nov. 24) and an 81-77 road win at Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
With these impressive early-season performances, the attention garnered by Thursday's game is not limited to the FSN-SW viewing area. Even ESPN has taken an interest in the Battle of the Piney Woods.
The following blurb appeared in Pat Forde's "Forde Weekly Minutes" column on ESPN.com last week under the heading "Unsung Rivalry Division":
"Stephen F. Austin-Sam Houston State (33). And you thought the Southland Conference didn't have anything captivating to offer? Think again. The Bearkats (that's Sam) and Lumberjacks (that's Stephen F.) are a combined 37-7 and packing double-digit RPIs (64 for Stephen, 74 for Sam). Sam won the first meeting by a deuce in January at home, with Round 2 scheduled for Feb. 21 at Stephen F. Austin. This matchup isn't just for Kyle Whelliston anymore; it's worth keeping tabs on for anyone who is looking for a potential Big Dance sleeper team to pull a first-round upset."
Whelliston is another writer for ESPN.com who specializes in mid-major college basketball and runs his own Web site -- TheMidMajority.com -- devoted to coverage of teams from the 22 mid-major conferences. Both SFA and Sam Houston have made numerous appearances in stories posted on TheMidMajority this season.
The two Southland Conference powers have also elbowed their way into the national Top 25 polls this season. Sam Houston began receiving votes in the Associated Press poll on Dec. 3 and stayed in the poll for six straight weeks. The Bearkats also earned votes in the ESPN/USA Today Top 25 poll on Dec. 24. SFA received votes in the ESPN poll on Dec. 24 and Dec. 31, and, on Monday, made its first appearance of the season in the AP poll. The 'Jacks earned two votes, marking their first showing in the AP poll since the 2002-03 season.
The interest in Thursday's game is peaked by the fact that the Lumberjacks and Bearkats are playing some of the best basketball in the SLC.
SFA enters the game on a six-game win streak and with the momentum of a 21-3 overall record -- the best mark through 24 games for a Lumberjack team since SFA went 22-2 through the first 24 contests of the 1971-72 campaign. The 'Jacks boast a 9-2 record in Southland Conference play, good enough for first place in the SLC West and just a half-game back of Lamar for the overall conference lead. SFA has not lost since a 58-56 defeat at Sam Houston State on Jan. 24.
The Bearkats, for their part, are also enjoying a solid season. Sam Houston opened the year with a conference-best 10-game win streak and brings a 19-5 overall mark to Thursday's showdown. The 'Kats are 7-4 in SLC play, two games behind SFA in the SLC West. They have won three of their last four contests.
Recent meetings between the two rivals have had plenty of excitement to offer. Dating back to Sam Houston's 69-66 overtime win in the championship game of the 2003 Southland Conference Tournament, seven of the last 11 games in the series have been decided by six points or fewer. That includes five verdicts of three points or fewer and a pair of one-point decisions.
The SFA Athletics Department is doing its part to ensure that the crowd at Thursday's game matches the intensity of the action on the floor. SFA is offering several additional promotions to entice students and the local community. The fun will start at 4 p.m. Thursday, when the Lumberjack Alley Tailgate area opens. Spots in the Alley will be available to all fans on a first-come, first-served basis. Once the doors open at the William R. Johnson Coliseum, all fans wearing purple will receive free admission. Once inside, the first fans to make it to the game will be able to take advantage of giveaways featuring Thundersticks and T-shirts. Show For Dough will be in play for both student groups and civic organizations, with the student group prize doubled from $200 to $400. And, in addition to the high-intensity action between the whistles, the high-flying Dallas Mavericks' Mavs Man will give a performance for halftime entertainment.
For more information about the game, tickets, or any of Thursday's great promotions, call the SFA Athletics Department at 468-3501, or visit www.sfajacks.com.
-- SFA --