Nobody wants to hang up their jersey.
Unfortunately, the Sam Houston State University men’s basketball team had to hang up their jerseys for the last time of the 2015-2016 season on Monday night after an overtime thriller loss to the Jackson State University Tigers in the first round of the College Insider.com Tournament.
The Bearkats knew it was going to be a close game, since an MRI earlier in the day revealed leading scorer junior guard Dakari Henderson had a fractured leg and would not be available for the contest.
The game started as a shootout and the game was tied at 24 all with just over eight minutes to play in the first half.
The Bearkats then went cold as ice and ended the half two for their last 17 field goal attempts. They headed to the locker room down 17, 48-31.
It was a similar story to start the second half, as the Bearkats were down by 21 points with 17 minutes to play in the ballgame.
SHSU made a heroic run and closed the gap thanks to sophomore guard Jamal Williams and junior forward Aurimas Majauskas.
The Kats managed to force an overtime but came up just short and fell 81-77 to end the season.
Williams led the way for the Bearkats with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Majauskas also chimed in 18 points and eight rebounds.
“In the second half we were able to get stops and turned them into some runs,” SHSU Head Coach Jason Hooten said. “We have some work to do. I know everyone says what a good year we have because we went through but we have a few things on the court we have to get fixed. We have to get a few guys better. I am very proud of our effort in the second half and overall effort for the year.”
Something that helped the Bearkats get an invitation to the CIT was a semifinal run at the Southland Conference Tournament Friday and Saturday in Katy at the Leonard E. Merrell Center.
After the three seed gave the Bearkats a first round bye, they took on the seven seed Nicholls University Colonels Friday.
The Bearkats got off to a hot start and were up 11-2 5 minutes into the ball game.
Nicholls fought back to force three ties but the Bearkats headed to the locker room up 38-34.
It was a similar story in the beginning of the second half with the Bearkats able to hold the lead until Nicholls took the lead with 2:06 to play in the game.
The Bearkats were behind by three with 1:32 left to go and that’s when the fireworks started.
Majauskas hit a jumper in the paint to give the Bearkats a two point lead, 58-56 with 17 seconds left to play.
Nicholls senior guard T.J. Carpenter then buried a three with eight seconds left on the clock to give Nicholls a one point lead 59-58.
The Bearkats had no timeouts but threw the ball down the court to the hobbled Henderson who hit the layup over the Nicholls defender to win the game for the Bearkats, 60-59.
Majauskas led the way for the Bearkats with 16 points and seven rebounds. Junior forward Torry Butler had a double double off the bench with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
“Coming into this game we thought it would be a tough one just like this,” Hooten said. “It’s tournament time and the records don’t matter. We knew it would be a grind it out type game and that’s exactly what it was. No one deserved to lose this one tonight. The two teams both fought really hard.”
The team moved on to face the two seed, the Texas A&M Corpus Christi Islanders, who the Kats had lost to by a combined total of eight points in their previous two meetings.
SHSU got off to another fast start and led for 19 of the 20 minutes in the first half.
The second half was less kind to the Bearkats with A&M Corpus Christi fight to take a lead, despite defensive player of the year junior forward Rashawn Thomas sitting on the bench with five fouls.
With seven seconds to play the Islanders drained a three to go up 79-76.
Junior guard Jovante Spivey was double covered with the ball and almost no time left on the clock. He lobbed up a shot with a prayer and it teased the rim but fell outside the rim which sealed the Bearkats fate.
The Bearkats had their worst free throw shooting night on the season, which was 15-24 from the line on the night.
“Obviously, it’s frustrating,” Hooten said. “Those guys aren’t trying to miss them. We shot 71 percent from the free throw line in conference and we usually make them, we just didn’t tonight.”
The Bearkats season might be over but there is hope for next year, as the only athlete who will not return for the 2016-2017 season is senior guard Mitch McCormick.
McCormick finished the season with nine points and two steals in just 19 minutes of play.
McCormick finishes his Bearkat career with 99 minutes played and 19 points.