Shot at redemption

The Piney Woods rivalry continues tonight when the Bearkat men’s basketball team (14-3, 2-2 SLC) play host to their rival, the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks (15-2, 3-1 SLC) in a match-up of two of the top teams in the Southland Conference. Sam Houston State swept the season series with SFA last year, including a 63-51 victory in Huntsville, yet the red-hot Lumberjacks hold the conference’s longest winning streak this season at three games. The Lumberjacks are the surprise team thus far in the Southland Conference. Their 15 victories match their entire win total from last season. Projected to finish fourth by the coaches and third in the West Division by the Sports Information Directors in the preseason polls, the Lumberjacks are currently first in the division with a half-game lead over UTSA and a one-game lead over SHSU, who currently resides in third place. Their biggest win came on the road against the University of Oklahoma on December 8, where they pulled off the 66-62 upset in Norman. “They have a good ball club,” SHSU head coach Bob Marlin said. “It will be important for us to go in and continue to play well Thursday.”The Lumberjacks are led by the junior duo of guard Josh Alexander and forward Matt Kingsley. Alexander, a pre-season Second Team All-Southland Conference selection is currently second in the conference averaging 16.6 points per game, and Houston native, Matt Kingsley (Cypress Creek High School) is third in the conference at 16 points per game, while pulling down 5.5 rebounds per game. The Bearkats are off to one of their better starts under head coach Bob Marlin’s tenure at Sam Houston State University, which was exemplified when the program received its first vote in the AP Poll since becoming a Division I program. The Bearkats held their vote in the AP Top 25 for five consecutive weeks before an overtime loss to San Diego State on Dec. 28.The home team will be led by former Deer Park standout, forward Ryan Bright. The pre-season First Team All-Southland Conference selection has played up to his pre-season hype leading the conference in rebounds at 11 per game, while leading the team in assists with nearly four a game. Guard Shamir McDaniel leads the Bearkats in scoring at 12.9 points per game and minutes played at nearly 33 a game. Center John Gardiner, who is back after missing all of a last season with an ACL injury, has been the post presence the team lacked last season, averaging 5.5 points and 4.8 rebounds a game, while guards Ashton Mitchell and DeLuis Ramirez have improved their play since conference play began. The match-up will feature two of the better defenses in the Southland Conference with SFA ranking first in scoring defense allowing 53.7 points per game, while SHSU is in second, allowing 58.9 points per game. The Bearkats, however, are first in the conference in-terms of field goal defense, holding opponents to shoot only .367 from the field, with the Lumberjacks currently in third, at .379. The game will be the 185th between the rivals, with the Lumberjacks holding a 95-89 advantage in the series. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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