With a fifth-straight Southland Conference title out of the question, the Stephen F. Austin men’s basketball shifted its agenda to laying claim to the best possible seed for the Southland Conference Tournament and honoring its senior duo of Dallas Cameron and CJ Williams on the final night of the regular season.
By using some hard-nosed defense, a big-time rebounding edge and a complete team effort, the ‘Jacks were able to do just that.
Leon Gilmore III put in 16 points - and brought the house down with a pair of highlight-reel dunks - Ty Charles finished with 15 and Kevon Harris added 14 more off of the bench as the ‘Jacks sent Cameron and CJ Williams off with a 64-56 win over Sam Houston State on senior night.
With the win, coupled with various results around the league, the ‘Jacks secured the number-three seed for the upcoming Southland Conference Tournament and will take the winner of sixth-seeded Lamar and seventh-seeded Nicholls on Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. in the Leonard E. Merrell Center in Katy, Texas.
At no point did the ‘Jacks trail the Bearkats, who shot a paltry 3-for-23 (13-percent) from three-point range in the game. The home team also made use of a 41-26 rebounding edge to keep Sam Houston State’s second-chance attempts to a minimum. That allowed Cameron to cap a regular season career that saw the Pompano Beach, Fla., product lose just one conference home game - something only four other four-year seniors from around the nation can claim to have done at the end of this season.
“I’ve talked a lot about Dallas throughout the year, but there’s nobody else I would have rather had in my corner for my first season as a Division I head coach,” said SFA head coach Kyle Keller. “He has been such a great leader to this team and to have this team rally around each other after last Thursday night was special.”
There was no questioning the Bearkats’ willingness to fire away from three-point land in the first half. Making those long range baskets, however, was a difficult task to accomplish for Sam Houston State who finished 1-for-13 (7.7-percent) from that distance through the first 20 minutes of action.
The Bearkats’ imprecise touch from downtown allowed the ‘Jacks to up their lead to as many as 11 points in the opening frame. One of the major components for SFA’s success in the first frame was bench scoring - namely the points that came from Harris.
Wanting to make his elder teammate’s final result in William R. Johnson Coliseum one of the winning variety, Harris took it to the Bearkats from three-point land and from in close. The first of Harris’ four first-half field goals was a three-pointer from the near wing that broke a 9-9 deadlock with 12:11 to go in the opening stanza and pushed SFA ahead for good.
In all, Harris finished with 11 first-half points but the Bearkats took off on an 8-2 surge in the final 1:32 of the half to cut SFA’s lead to just five, 31-26, at the break.
Cameron put a charge into the Lumberjack faithful in the first 52 seconds of the final frame by drilling a pair of three-pointers that upped SFA’s edge to 37-26. Minutes later, a one-handed put-back dunk from Gilmore III handed the ‘Jacks their largest lead of the game, 41-27, with 17:17 left.
Although the Bearkats never held the lead, the ‘Jacks were never able to put their longtime Piney Woods rivals away for good. With 7:24 to go, Jamal Williams took to the sky and unleashed a two-handed put-back dunk of his own that shrank SFA’s lead to 52-49.
From there, however, Josh Huntley flexed his way inside and scored four-straight points for the ‘Jacks to give the home squad a 56-49 edge with 6:08 to go.
Sam Houston State never cut SFA’s lead to fewer than five points the rest of the way and the ‘Jacks put the game on ice by hitting four of their final six free throw attempts. With seconds remaining, Cameron checked out of the game to a standing ovation from the SFA faithful in attendance.
TJ Holyfield had 10 of the ‘Jacks’ 41 rebounds and Cameron finished with eight points for the ‘Jacks who shot 48.6-percent from the field in the win.