March 7, 2009
SAN ANTONIO, Texas -
Stephen F. Austin was outscored, 20-8, at the foul stripe in Saturday's season finale at UTSA. But Josh Alexander went 6-for-6 at the line over the final 11 seconds to seal a 66-62 win for the Southland Conference champion Lumberjacks and lock up the No. 1 seed at next week's SLC Tournament.
SFA improves to 21-7 on the season and finishes the year alone atop the Southland standings with a 13-3 conference mark. The Lumberjacks will square off with No. 8 Southeastern Louisiana (13-16, 7-9 SLC) Thursday night in the first round of the SLC Tournament. The Roadrunners close out their season at 14-15 with an 8-8 mark in league play. They will be the No. 6 seed in next week's tournament.
Alexander finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds, posting his sixth 20-point performance of the season and third double-double of the year. Matt Kingsley joined him with 19 points and a career-high 14 rebounds for his seventh double-double this season.
After several lead changes in the second half, SFA went ahead by four with 58 seconds to play when Nick Shaw knocked down a 3-pointer from the corner to put the `Jacks up, 58-54. UTSA's Devin Gibson answered with a driving layup at the 50-second mark to cut the lead back to two.
Lumberjack point guard Eric Bell responded by driving past Gibson at the other end to lay one in with 22 seconds to play. But the Roadrunners pulled to within one on a 3-pointer by Travis Gabbidon with 15 seconds left.
UTSA began to foul at that point, hacking Alexander on the Lumberjacks' next three possessions. The 2008 SLC Player of the Year knocked down the first two. SFA put Omar Johnson at the line on the other end, and he hit both free throws with eight seconds to play. Alexander answered with two more foul shots.
Gibson went to the stripe for two on the ensuing UTSA possession. He connected on the first, but the second rimmed out and came down in Gabbidon's hands. He launched a jumper from the corner, but it bounced off and Alexander corralled it for his 10th rebound of the game. He drained the last two foul shots with two seconds left to put the game away.
In the first period, SFA pulled out to a 14-6 lead with 13:48 to play on a 3-pointer by Alexander. But the Lumberjacks quickly surrendered their largest lead of the half with a five-minute scoring drought.
Walt Harris broke the dry spell with a driving layup at the 8:47 mark. That bucket gave SFA a 16-15 edge. The Roadrunners had taken their first lead of the night on the previous possession, when Joey Shank hit a 3-pointer.
But the `Jacks followed Harris' basket with a second scoring drought, this one lasting 5:16. By the time Kingsley laid one in with 3:31 to play, the Roadrunners had built a 21-18 advantage.
The Lumberjacks committed a season-high 13 turnovers in the first half and shot just 34.6 percent from the floor. UTSA was slightly worse from the field at 32 percent, but the Roadrunners went 8-for-9 from the foul stripe to take a 26-21 lead to the half.
For the game, the Lumberjacks shot 42 percent from the field and connected on 40 percent from 3-point range. After turning the ball over a season-high 13 times in the first half, they coughed it up just once after halftime. SFA outrebounded UTSA, 38-33. The Roadrunners went 20-for-24 at the free throw line. SFA was 8-of-13.
Shaw, Bell and Harris posted seven points apiece, and sophomore Eddie Williams added five. Gabbidon led UTSA with 16 points.
The Lumberjacks' SLC title marks the first time since the 1982-83 campaign for the program to take back-to-back championships. In all, SFA has won league titles in consecutive years on nine different occasions, including a run of six straight Lone Star Conference championships in the 1930s.
With the outright title in hand, the Lumberjacks have guaranteed themselves at least a bid in the National Invitation Tournament, if the team fails to make the NCAA Championships. This marks the first time since 2001-02 for a Southland team to make the postseason in consecutive campaigns. McNeese State earned a bid to the 2001 NIT then made the NCAA Tournament the following season.
SFA's 21-7 season record gives the Lumberjacks back-to-back 20-win campaigns, the second time that's happened under head coach Danny Kaspar. SFA posted consecutive 20-win seasons in the 2002-03 and 2003-04 campaigns, winning 21 games each year. Prior to Kaspar's tenure, the last 20-win season for the Lumberjacks was in 1986-87, the program's first year at the Division I level. SFA's 22-8 record that season came on the heels of a 22-5 mark the previous year. The Lumberjacks have posted 23 20-win seasons in program history.
Look for an announcement on the schedule for next week's SLC Tournament soon on SFAJacks.com.
-- SFA --