Stephen F. Austin slips past Southeastern to win Southland tourney, take NCAA bid
KATY, Texas – The Lumberjacks won their fourth Southland Conference Tournament Championship in five years when they defeated top-seeded Southeastern Louisiana 59-55 on Saturday at the Leonard E. Merrell Center.
“That was a great night for our school and these players,” SFA head coach Kyle Keller said. “I sat here about 12 months ago and told people that would listen that we’d be back. Thankfully our players did that for us. I’m very gracious our players listened.”
SFA led by as many as 14 in the second half, but it was the last 4:46 of the game that proved all the difference for the Lumberjacks. In that span, the No. 3 seed outscored its opponent 16-6 to regain the lead and claim the 2018 title.
The Lumberjacks jumped out to a 9-2 start to the second half to extend their lead to 14, but Southeastern strung together a couple runs of its own to regain the lead. After a 7-0 stretch came to a halt from a TJ Holyfield tip-in, junior forward Moses Greenwood and senior guard Joshua Filmore combined for 15 consecutive points to give the Lions a 49-43 lead with 5:45 left in the game, keeping SFA scoreless for almost nine minutes.
That’s when another Holyfield tip-in turned the tide.
Holyfield, the eventual Tournament MVP, led a six-point stretch to tie the game at 49 apiece which forced Southeastern head coach Jay Ladner to call a timeout at 3:51 left in the game. All-Tournament selection Marlain Veal completed a pair of shots at the charity line to give the Lions a 51-49 lead, but senior guard Ivan Canete answered with a three-pointer, and the ‘Jacks never surrendered the lead after that.
SFA outrebounded Southeastern 34-27 for the night, 13 of those coming on the offensive side. The Lumberjacks put up 16 second chance points compared to the Lions’ two. They also led the turnover game, forcing 15 though the Lions scored a game-leading 18 points off 11 turnovers.
“They do a great job defensively and play a style of defense that is not very common,” Ladner said. “I have this great respect for Kyle Keller and the Stephen F. Austin program. They did a great job of really disturbing Marlain Veal. Veal makes our team go. They did a great job of helping take him out of the game.”
At the start of the game, Southeastern forced three turnovers on the Lumberjacks’ first three possessions followed by senior guard Eddy Polanco knocking down a three-pointer to make it 5-0 before Kyle Keller called an early timeout.
The Jacks’ senior guard Ty Charles gave the team its first points of the game with a three-pointer that woke up the Lumberjack offense coming out of the timeout. SFA garnered its first lead at 8-7 and used two big stretches in the opening period to take the 32-25 lead at the break.
Down 13-8 with 13:16 remaining in the first half, sophomore guard Aaron Augustin used a jumper to spark a 9-0 run with Holyfield capping it with a triple and layup to take the four-point lead.
Veal tallied his fourth assist of the game with 8:10 left in the first when he fed Greenwood for a layup to cut the SFA lead to 22-19. It would be the last field goal for Southeastern in a six-minute stretch that saw the Lumberjacks net eight-straight points, including a monstrous slam by Holyfield, to go up 30-18.
In the first half, Holyfield and junior guard Shannon Bogues each registered seven points to lead the Lumberjack offense while Polanco scored seven points paired with four rebounds and Veal had four points along with five assists for the Lions. SFA had eight second chance points to SLU’s zero and led the battle of the boards 15-10.
The Lumberjacks will await its fate in the NCAA Tournament when the bracket is announced Sunday at 5 p.m. CT on TBS.
Tournament MVP: TJ Holyfield, Stephen F. Austin
Marlain Veal, Southeastern Louisiana
Shannon Bogues, Stephen F. Austin
Josh Delaney, Sam Houston State
Eddy Polanco, Southeastern Louisiana
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