It was a fight from start to finish Saturday night at Johnson Coliseum between first place Sam Houston State and second place Stephen F. Austin.
The Bearkats overcame a five point second half deficit to walk away with a 69-62 victory and a game and a half lead in the Southland Conference title race.
Junior Jason Stephenson hit a three-point basket with just more than seven minutes left in the game to put the Kats up for good 56-53.
“I don’t know what it is, but SFA always seems to bring out the best in me,” Stephenson said. “We had a lot of key contributions from everybody on our team.”
A breakaway dunk by Donald Cole put the exclamation point on the comeback and gave SHSU its biggest lead of the night, 67-57, with 2:52 left to play.
Marcus Ebow, who played his biggest game of the season, stepped up and made some key plays down the stretch, including the steal that set Cole up for the dunk.
“Before the game, coach told us we needed to start playing with a sense of urgency, and so I just wanted to go in and help my team as much as I could,” Ebow said. “Coach has been getting on me all week about playing defense. I just wanted to let my defense go first and then my offense would come.”
The first half started just like the second, with the Lumberjacks taking control early on. The Bearkats fell behind by as many as 11 before an Eddy Fobbs dunk sparked a late surge.
The Kats outscored SFA 15-2 in the final five minutes of the half including an 11-0 run to finish it.
“Sam’s run at the end of the first half was the killer for us,” SFA head coach Danny Kaspar said. “They just really did a fine job coming back.”
Cole finished with a game high 15 points and Mario Kinsey and Stephenson had 11 apiece. Ebow was 4-4 from the field and finished with 10 points and two steals.
Senior Robert Shannon had seven assists to go with nine points, and Fobbs had four points and four blocks.
The win over SFA has pretty much secured Sam a first round playoff bye in the conference tournament that is set to begin on March 10.
“After tonight we could lose the rest of our games and still finish second, but that is not our goal,” said head coach Bob Marlin. “Our goal is to win the league, and we have a tough road trip coming up.”
The Kats travel to Louisiana next week to play Louisiana-Monroe on Thursday and Northwestern State on Saturday.
SHSU will return to Huntsville to take on McNeese State in the regular season finale March 5.