It’s official.

The Sam Houston State Bearkats are the 2003 Southland Conference Champions. The Kats claimed the title outright with a dominating performance in which they beat the McNeese State Cowboys 81-66 last night at Johnson Coliseum.

“It feels great but it really won’t sink in until tomorrow,” senior Donald Cole said. “We have three goals and this is the first one we have accomplished.”

SHSU jumped out to an early lead when Cole laid one in to start the game and they never looked back. The Kats led by as many as 21 before Greg Tucker hit a three to end the first half with Sam leading 43-26.

The Cowboys started the second half much like the Kats did the first one. Two quick Cole buckets put the Bearkats back up by 20, but McNeese was able to cut the lead down to 13 when Marcus Watts hit a lay up with 13:50 left to play.

The basket seemed to wake the Kats up and Robert Shannon answered by hitting a three to push the lead back to 16.

“We wanted to come out on a good note,” Shannon said. ” We haven’t been playing good in close games, so it felt real comfortable to have a big lead.”

Head coach Bob Marlin credited the comeback effort that McNeese showed.

“I thought that we were okay but I wanted to score more to take away their intensity,” Marlin said. “To their credit, they came out in the second half and probably scored on five of their first seven possessions.”

The Kats went up by 25, their biggest lead of the game, when Cole laid one off the glass from inside the lane with 6:30 to play.

Cole led the Bearkats with 25 points and Eddy Fobbs chipped in a double double with 11 points and 11 rebounds. Fobbs was 3-3 from the field with all his points coming on an array of nasty dunks. Shannon scored five points and had seven assists. Senior Felton Freeman was 3-4 from the field for a total of eight points and Eddy Barlow added nine.

“It is nice to win the conference championship and 20 games,” said Marlin. “It’s one step closer to our goal and we still have two more steps to take.”

The Bearkats dominated on the glass by gobbling up 39 rebounds to McNeese’s 27. Sam Onwuchekwa put the icing on the cake when he made 1-of-2 free throws to end the game. The Bearkats finished the regular season with an overall record of 21-6 and 17-3 in conference play.

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