Spectators at Johnson Coliseum and viewers on ESPN3 witnessed the Sam Houston State Bearkats play their best game of the season Saturday evening.
The team matched up against the Houston Baptist Huskies for the second time this season, but unlike their first meeting back on Jan. 2, the Kats got their revenge by topping HBU 78-63 for their second win of the season.
“This was a big game for us,” head coach Brenda Welch-Nichols said. “We needed this game on the books and they did exactly what we asked them to do. I kind of changed the game plan up this morning. We decided to go with a four-out, one-in and we put that in right at the start of shoot around. The girls bought into it.”
Much like the Bearkats last home game against Stephen F. Austin on Feb. 2, SHSU started Saturday’s game firing on all cylinders. Freshmen guards Jenniffer Oramas and Rachel Harrell opened the scoring spree drilling back-to-back three pointers.
The Kats had six players crack into the scoring column and shot 67 percent from the field as a team, including making four of five shots from behind the arc. SHSU led HBU by 14 points at one point, and finished the first quarter leading 26-12, which marks the most points scored in a quarter all season for the Bearkats.
“We needed to come out and we needed to be on fire,” Welch-Nichols said. “I told them right after shoot around this morning that we lost to them at their place by 10, we lost on the line, we missed 13 foul shots the first time we played them. I told them that we needed to come out and put more points up and we have to win every half.”
SHSU opened the second quarter with more points. Freshman post Kierra McKinney added two to the scoreboard with a layup. Shortly after, junior guard Angela Delaney made a shot and drew a foul in the process, but she could not convert the three-point play the old fashion way.
However, both teams played a portion of the second quarter in a scoring slump. HBU went 3:02 without a single point and SHSU was scoreless for 4:44 before Oramas broke through with a fast break layup. Delaney ended the first half for the Kats by converting two of three foul shots after she was fouled on a last second heave to beat the buzzer.
“I wasn’t expecting them to foul me,” Delaney said. “It was a shock to me honestly. I was just thinking that I was going to get the ball and try and shoot it. So, when she fouled me I said ‘I’ll take it.’”
The Bearkats went into the locker room for halftime with a 17-point lead after playing one of their better halves of the season. SHSU led 42-25 at the half, which was the team’s highest scoring half of the season.
“I thought it was a lot of team play,” Welch-Nichols said. “We really had to utilize everybody from post on and everybody needed to rebound. We haven’t been rebounding as a team and I thought we needed to do that.”
Delaney opened the second half by drilling her second three pointer of the game to give the Kats a 20-point lead. HBU senior guard Hedi Byrd answered back with her own three. After making the three point shot, the Huskies went ice cold. The team missed its next five shots and was scoreless from the field for 3:57.
Delaney’s opening three was also the only points from the field the Bearkats saw for awhile. The Kats went 2:57 without making a shot, but still maintained to enter the fourth quarter leading 59-42 after Delaney and Harrell ended the quarter with back-to-back threes.
“It was my teammates,” Delaney said. “They were on fire, Rachel was on fire, Tia [Harston] and Jenny [Oramas]. Having them on fire encouraged me to be on fire. So, I thank them.”
The Huskies were forced to fight back in the final period of action. HBU scored nine unanswered points to cut the lead to single digits, but the Bearkats never allowed the Huskies to get the lead. Sophomore forward Lydia Baxter made a shot underneath the basket to extend the Kats’ lead back to 14 points with just over two minutes remaining in the game.
SHSU acted quickly when HBU attempted to make a comeback. The Kats shutdown the potential comeback and held a double-digit lead when the final buzzer sounded.
Welch-Nichols approved with how her team responded late in the game.
“The girls were just so relaxed and they’re playing well,” Welch-Nichols said. “We told them to get on the love train, get out there, let’s have some fun and to quit worrying about everything and live in the moment. That’s exactly how they played was in the moment.”
Both Delaney and freshman guard Tia Harston finished in double digits scoring. Harston scored 11 points, while Delaney scored a game-high 19 points, including shooting six of nine from three point range. To go along with her game-high in points, Delaney also pulled down five boards and notched three assists.
“Overdue [when talking about Delaney’s performance],” Welch-Nichols said. “I’m just so excited that she came out and she had a great game. She played very team ball. She moved the ball around when she needed to and she took the shots when she needed. She did exactly what we’ve been telling her to do all along.”
The Bearkats finished the game shooting 42 percent from the field, but the most eye-popping stat was the turnover column. The Bearkats recorded a season-low 10 turnovers, which is well below the team’s average of 22.7 turnovers per game.
“I’m very excited about our 10 turnovers,” Welch-Nichols said. “That could be a school record for this year. We had more assists than turnovers and that’s kudos to the guards out there and also to our post players that we ran inside and out. They really took care of the ball tonight.”
With the win over the Huskies, the Bearkats are now 2-20 overall and 2-10 in Southland Conference play. SHSU will now travel 411 miles to Conway, AK to take on the SLC first place Central Arkansas Sugar Bears on Feb. 15.
Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.