Entering the Southland Conference tournament with a 16-16 record as the no. 6 seed, the Sam Houston State mens basketball team surprised many fans, shooting their way into the semi-finals over the weekend.
The Bearkats handled Central Arkansas in round one 69-63 and Oral Roberts, a group who swept SHSU during the season, 58-55 in the quarterfinals before falling in the semi-finals against Northwestern State, who went on to win the tournament.
Against UCA guard Darius Gatson exploded, scoring 19 points. He averaged 13.7 points per game with a .500 percent from the arc to claim a spot on the SLC All-Tournament team. Gatson opened the tournament shooting 75 percent from the arc and 55 percent in the field. Accompanied by forward James Thomas accounting for 16 points (58 percent in the field), Gatson led SHSU to sweep the Bears for the year with three wins during the conference season and tournament.
Preceding the quarterfinals, SHSU trailed Oral Roberts twice with two second half runs into the remaining minutes. As for the quarterfinals, the story remained the same but with a twist.
Guard Paul Baxter led the Bearkats against Oral Roberts, scoring 13 points, shooting 40 percent from the perimeter and 45 percent from the field to edge out a 58-55 win.
Falling 39-26 at halftime, Baxter and company rallied on the back of their defense to hold off the Golden Eagles offense; shooting 60 percent in the first half. Head Coach Jason Hooten said determination and fight pulsed SHSU over ORU.
The credit goes to our kids; how hard they fought, how they believed in each other and our program, Hooten said in the press conference.
Baxter gave SHSU a late 53-47 lead with 3:20 left in the second half after sinking a basket.
I had not been playing how I thought I should be playing tonight, and I just had to get out of my head, Baxter said. I had to make a play and it just happened I got a good shot and some good looks.
In the semi-finals against high scoring Northwestern State (15-3 SLC), SHSUs defense held the Demons to 38 percent shooting from the field.
Free throws held NSU within reach and eventually gave them a 49-48 lead with 2:54 left in the second half. An exchange of leads in the remaining minute placed Demon shooter DeQuan Hicks in a position to sink a pair of free throws to give NSU a 53-51 lead with less than a minute to play.
When I stepped up, it was like nothing there; it was like being back in the gym, Hicks said.
Shooting from the free throw line, something thats troubled the Bearkats all season, proved to be the game changer as Thomas missed his second free throw with 19 seconds left, allowing NSU to maintain a three point lead.
With the season at and end, Thomas commended his teammates with their conference run.
It has been a long season, but we started clicking at the right time and at the right moment. In the tournament, we were running the offense better and playing with a sense of urgency, Thomas said post NSU. Tonight, we played a good game and executed the game plan, played with a sense of urgency and everyone just played for each other.