Red-Hot Kats Ready for Potential Tiebreaker Game

March Madness is almost here and the Sam Houston State Bearkats are catching fire at the right time.

Winners of six straight, the Kats hold second place in the Southland Conference with an overall record of 15-6 (6-2 SLC). SHSU will host the Southeastern Louisiana Lions on Saturday.

“Southeastern Louisiana is good, they’re long, they’re athletic, they play really hard and they’re coached well,” assistant coach Chris Mudge said. “They played us really close here last year even though they only had six scholarship guys healthy. It’s going to be a good matchup and they’ll finish in the top three of our league.”

The Bearkats have cruised to victory in their last two games, winning by double digits against Lamar and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi; but Saturday’s matchup against the Lions will not be a cakewalk. The Lions have the second ranked defense in the SLC, holding opponents to an average of 68.3 points per game while also forcing their opponent to shoot 42.9 percent from the floor.

Senior guard Dakarai Henderson, the Bearkats’ leading scorer, has a plan of attack when it comes to breaking down the Lions’ defense.

“I plan on attacking the same way I do every single game,” Henderson said. “It’s about trusting my teammates and trusting our offense. I know during the Lamar game, and a couple other games, they (the opponent) were facing up on me over the entire court, but I don’t let that bother me because I know that it’ll open things up for others.”

However, SHSU has excelled on offense as of late and are a perfect matchup against SLU. The Kats have the second ranked scoring offense in the conference, averaging 77.2 points per game. The team also knows how to share the ball as they are ranked first in the conference with 16.4 assists per game.

“We can shoot the ball and we have some good scorers,” senior point guard Paul Baxter said. “We know that and a lot of the time we let that drive how hard we play. We share the ball because our team is full of scorers and it’s good to know that you can give the ball up and get it right back.”

In order to lock up their seventh consecutive victory the Kats will have to keen in on the Lions’ two main playmakers, sophomore guard Marlain Veal and junior forward Davon Hayes. Both Veal and Hayes rank in the conference’s top-20 in scoring and are dangerous with the basketball. Veal averages 13.5 points per game, which is fourth in the SLC, and Hayes sits at No. 20 averaging 12.6 points per game.

The Bearkats will begin putting their game plan together Wednesday, but Mudge already knows stopping Veal and Hayes will be a major factor.

“It’s very important to slow those two guys down,” Mudge said. “You obviously want to take away what a team does best. They have a lot of really good players, but our game plan will definitely have a large part to do with trying to slow down those two guys and force other guys beat us.”

Saturday’s game could play a role later in the season when it comes time for the conference tournament to start. This will be the only time SHSU will face SLU, and with the top three seeds all up for grabs, Saturday’s matchup is a tiebreaker game.

“This game is very important because anytime you get to play a team that is fighting you for the championship is at an importance, but especially when you only play them one time and you get the tiebreaker,” Mudge said. “Getting a tiebreaker could be the difference in getting a one seed instead of a two seed, or getting a three seed instead of a two seed.”

SLU hosts Northwestern State University on Wednesday, and if the Lions win, the SLC will have a two-way tie at No. 2 in the standings. The all-important tiebreaker game will tipoff at 6:15 p.m. at Johnson Coliseum.

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