The Sam Houston State Bearkats moved one step closer to securing a date for the “Big Dance” by beating McNeese State 64-58 to advance to the Southland Conference Tournament championship game on Friday.
Junior Eddy Fobbs turned his game up a notch and Robert Shannon made some clutch shots down the stretch to propel the Kats past the Cowboys.
“Eddy can be a difference maker for this team,” head coach Bob Marlin said. “He had an incredible week of practice and he carried it over to the game.”
The Bearkats started of the game with a 6-0 run but McNeese quickly cut it to three when Damond Williams hit a three at the 16:33 mark.
The teams fought back and forth with the lead changing hand six times over the next 10 minutes. Another three point basket by Williams gave McNeese their biggest lead of the night 24-19 with just over six minutes left in the half.
The Kats came roaring back and tied the game with a trey of their own by Jason Stephenson to tie it at 24. SHSU went into the half with a 28-26 lead thanks to a fast break dunk by Donald Cole.
“I started trying to go to the boards a little bit and I got a couple of offensive rebounds and a dunk,” Cole said. “I tried to do whatever I could to help the team on the offensive and defensive end.”
The second half started out identical to the first with the Kats going on a 6-0 run to increase their lead to eight at 34-26. McNeese once again used a three point basket to stop the bleeding, but this time it was Jason Coleman stepping up for the Cowboys.
Stephenson pushed the lead to six, the Bearkats’ biggest lead of the night, when he stole the ball and used a killer spin move to lay the ball off the glass for a fast break bucket.
Someone however, forgot to tell the Cowboys to roll over and give it up. McNeese clawed its way back and recaptured the lead 48-47 with 5:54 left in the game. Sam went back on top 52-51 with 4:41 on the clock and never looked back.
The Bearkats missed some key free throws that would have put the game out of reach in the final seconds, but a fast break layup by Eddy Barlow put the nail in the coffin with 10 seconds left in McNeese’s season.
“We knew that our defense would pick it up,” Cole said. “We missed a couple of free throws late, but we have to stay up and hope someone will step it up at the line.”
The Bearkats dominated inside the paint by outscoring the Cowboy’s 42-22.
“We felt that Cole and Fobbs could score because McNeese isn’t as good inside as they were last year inside,” Marlin said. “I thought that we had an advantage there.”
Cole finished with a game high14 points and six rebounds and Fobbs added 13 points and two blocks. Senior Eddy Barlow had 11 points and Stephenson chipped in 10.
The victory kept the Bearkats undefeated at home this season with an 11-0 record.
Stephen F. Austin will make the trip to rowdy Johnson Coliseum for Friday’s championship game after they disposed of Southwest Texas 67-58 in Nacogdoches last night.
“It is going to be a good match up but I feel that we have the edge,” Cole said. “We are going to come out and play like we have all year and get ready for ESPN on Friday.”
Regardless of who wins on Friday, one of the two teams will be making its first ever trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Friday’s game will be nationally televised on ESPN2.
Tip-off is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Admission is free with a valid student ID.