Title on the Line

The Sam Houston State Bearkats can secure their second Southland Conference title under head coach Bob Marlin’s tenure with a win over McNeese State Wednesday night at Johnson Coliseum.

The Kats sit alone at the top of the conference standings with a 16-3 record and lead second place Stephen F. Austin by one game.

“It’s our biggest game of the season so far until the conference tournament starts,” senior Donald Cole said. “Everybody is pumped up knowing that if we win this game then we are going to be champions.”

SHSU beat McNeese 85-78 earlier this season at Lake Charles, La., on Dec. 30. Robert Shannon scored 28 points in the win and Cole led the Kats with 13 rebounds.

“We haven’t played them in two months, and they are obviously a good basketball team because they are a two time conference champion,” Marlin said. “It was a big win for us over there, and it will be a totally different game this time around.”

The Bearkats had their 10 game winning streak snapped by Louisiana-Monroe on Thursday night. The Indians handed SHSU a 78-71 loss in overtime.

ULM hit 10-of-12 free throws in overtime on their way to outscore the Kats 12-5 for the win.

“We were flat the whole game and it was a matter of the team that played the best was the team that won,” Marlin said. “Their coach said that it was the best game they played all year, and it took overtime at their home court to beat us.”

Cole led the Kats with 20 points and eight rebounds and ULM’s Kirby Lemons had 18 points and 14 boards.

The game marked the third time that these two teams couldn’t settle the outcome in regulation. SHSU beat the Indians in the previous two overtime games.

“I told the team earlier that it was better that we lost now instead of in the conference tournament,” Cole said. “It was a wake up call for us because we can’t lose anymore games.”

The Bearkats bounced back with a win over Northwestern State 83-72 in Natchitoches, La., on Saturday. The win and an SFA loss secured at least a share of the conference title for the Kats.

Cole once again led the Kats with 24 points and Jason Stephenson came off the bench to add 19 of his own.

“I thought that we were really ready to play,” said Marlin. “Jason Stephenson got hot for us and scored nine straight points to give us a seven point lead at the half.”

The Kats ended up with a 7-3-conference road record.

The Kats are guarenteed a first round conference tournament bye and at least one home court game. A win over McNeese will seal up home court advantage for Sam throughout the SCL tournament.

Wednesday’s season finale is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. and admission is free with a student I.D.

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