The newly renovated Johnson Coliseum was loud and proud Saturday afternoon as the Sam Houston State Bearkats tipped off their season with a 104-57 win over the LeTourneau Yellow Jackets.
“There was good and bad, which comes with every game,” head coach Jason Hooten said. “I thought that our intensity level wasn’t where it was when we scrimmaged UTA last week, but it’s all apart of what lies ahead. We’re just taking it one game at a time and I feel like there were a lot of good things to take from today.”
Officially burying last season’s semifinals loss in the past, the Southland Conference favorites came out firing on all cylinders. The Kats built a 51-25 halftime lead, which the Yellow Jackets couldn’t bounce back from. The team shot 55.9 percent from the field and tallied a total of 48 assists.
Just about every player on the roster got a taste of the season opener action. Out of the 13 Kats that took the court, nine played fifteen or more minutes. Hooten says that his coaching staff was working on some things and that the team’s depth allows playing time for just about everybody.
“I just wanted to come out, play a lot of guys and see some of the things we’ve been working on,” Hooten said. “I feel very confident in reaching over there and putting anyone in. I think we can start any of these guys and find the right chemistry, and that’s a good problem to have as a coach. It’ll be a thing that I have to find. We have to find the right starting five.”
Although the Bearkats returned every starter and rotational player from last season, the transfer pickups were the players who stood out the most.
Sophomore transfer John Dewey III and graduate transfer Phillip Jones Jr. were all over the court. Dewey III led the Bearkats in scoring with 18 points of the bench, while also tallying a team-high five assists. Jones Jr. added 10 points off the bench and senior center Aurimas Majauskas led all starters with 12 points.
“They’re [Dewey and Jones] what we didn’t have last year,” Hooten said. “Last year our depth just wasn’t where it needed to be. Dewey and Jones are both very talented players. Jones will rise as the competition gets tougher and Dewey is just as good a passer as I’ve ever coached.”
SHSU’s presence was also known on the defensive side of the ball. The Kats’ defense suffocated the Yellow Jackets all game long, forcing LETU into taking tough and contested shots.
The Bearkats held their opposition to only 25 first half points and forced the Yellow Jackets into shooting a dreadful 30.8 percent from the field for the game. SHSU outrebounded LTEU 48 to 23 and racked up a total of nine steals.
Senior forward Torry Butler led the team in rebounds with 11 off the bench.
“Defense is a big key part to our game and our team,” Butler said. “The defense starts our offense in transition and that’s what we’re best at. I feel like I played good on the defensive end. I got a couple deflections to start our offense, but rebounding is what I really do.”
SHSU will have a quick turnaround, as the team will board a flight to Athens, OH and take on the Ohio Bobcats on Monday. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.