HUNTSVILLE, Texas - Against their biggest rival and on the heels of a two-game losing streak, the Stephen F. Austin Ladyjacks claimed their most critical victory of the season with a 69-67 triumph at Sam Houston State Wednesday evening at Bernard J. Johnson Coliseum.
Over the final two minutes of regulation the Ladyjacks outscored Sam Houston 11-8 and survived some late game heroics from Britni Martin to escape with the win.
Ashlee Mells tied a career-high with 19 points and Tammara Marion followed with 17 to help the Ladyjacks put an end to their first losing skid of the season. SFA trailed by as much as eight points in the second half but a late push by SFA put them within striking distance in the final two minutes.
Sha Turner put the Ladyjacks back on top with a putback layup at the 1:49 mark, giving SFA a 60-59 lead. Following a split at the line from Martin, Ashley Bettis drained a jumper to extend the Ladyjacks lead to 62-60 with just 1:12 remaining. Following a Sam Houston missed shot, Marion then proceeded to hit the shot of the night with a three-pointer, giving SFA a 65-60 lead with just 30 seconds remaining.
The Ladyjacks (13-5, 3-2) increased their lead to 67-60 before Martin hit back-to-back three-pointers sandwiched between a Bettis turnover. Brittney Matthew then came up clutch for SFA, draining both her free throws with six seconds remaining to give SFA a 69-66 advantage. Matthew then smartly fouled Martin, preventing her from hoisting another three-point shot with one second remaining.
Martin, who finished with a game-high 30 points, split both free throws to make the score 69-67 and, although the ball went out of bounds to Sam Houston, there was only .03 left in the game and the Bearkats were unable to get a shot off.
After holding a lead as large as 14 points in the first half, the Ladyjacks saw that cushion slip away in a hurry in the early moments of the second half.
The Bearkats (9-8, 4-2) went on a 12-0 run in the first few minutes, taking a 42-39 lead, before SFA scored their first basket at the 14 minute mark on a layup from Annette Davis.
SFA got off to a sizzling start in the game's first four minutes, opening up a 10-3 lead following two three-pointers from Marion and a layup from Porsha Roberts.
The Ladyjacks extended that first half lead to 30-18 with 7:49 remaining in the first half with perhaps their best offensive stretch in the first half during conference action. As a team SFA had 11 assists in the first 20 minutes and committed just six turnovers while winning the rebounding battle 23-17.
SFA also outscored the Bearkats 22-12 in the paint and had 13 second-chance points.
Mells, making her first ever start as a Ladyjack, was the story of the first half for SFA, scoring 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting and pulled down three offensive rebounds in just 12 minutes of play. Matthew was also inserted into the starting lineup for the first time in her young career and took advantage early, dishing out five assists, scoring five points and committing just one turnover.
SFA came up one point shy of matching their season-high 40-point performance at UTPA, taking a 39-30 lead into halftime.
The Ladyjacks will be back in action this Saturday when they host Texas A&M-Corpus Christi at 6 p.m. for `Cram The Coliseum' night.