It wasn’t exactly a “must win” for the Bearkats, but they showed some resolve in Thursday night’s 78-74 win against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
The two teams entered the contest tied for the No. 2 spot in the Southland Conference standings with a potential tiebreaker on the line.
Sam Houston State, coming off a four-game road swing, returned home to Johnson Coliseum to pick up a win against one the league’s most formidable opponents.
“These are the kind of games you know you have to win in the second half of your conference season and going into, hopefully, a chance to play in March,” Sam Houston head coach Jason Hooten said. “These are big games. We had a big crowd tonight, big atmosphere. I was really proud of our guys and the way we competed.”
After trailing by four points at halftime, the Bearkats jumped out to 20-5 run against the Islanders to start the second period.
Senior Terrance Motley came off the bench in the first half and put up 10 points on 5-of-6 from the field to keep Sam Houston within striking distance, depsite Corpus Christi shooting 52 percent from the floor in the first half.
Then it was mostly Sam Houston coming out of the break.
Junior Michael Holyfield, who struggled with foul trouble to start the game opening the door for Motley, scored the first five points of the second half to give the Bearkats a narrow lead.
Sam Houston (15-6, 7-2 Southland) led by as many as 16 points with 9:24 left in the game before the Islanders made a run of their own.
“They’ve got a good team. They’re well-coached and the play hard so I knew they would come back,” Hooten said. “Those are things that we work on in practice all of the time, getting the ball inbounds with 20 seconds left, running down and making free throws. We’re one of the best teams in the country in the last four minutes from the free throw line. I feel good when we get in that situation.”
The Bearkats were 2-5 last season in conference games decided by four points or less. That experience has shown to be valuable for some of the players who were on last year’s team.
“Last year, we didn’t win too many games like this,” said senior forward James Thomas, who finished with a team-high 17 points. “We gave a lot of games away that we should’ve won like this. I think that experience, plus the new players we added, it made us a better team and we know what it takes now to get where we want to be.”
Motley finished with 14 points and made seven of his nine shot attempts on the night. It was one several impressive performances from the Sam Houston post players. All seven of Holyfield’s points came in the second half, as well as 11 of his career-high 16 rebounds. The junior from Albuquerque, New Mexico also recorded five blocks against the Islanders.
Freshman Arimas Majauskas only played six minutes, all in the second half. But his four points and one assist came at a critical point in which the Bearkats were extending their lead.
“We’ve got a team full of players,” Thomas said. “We’re deep. We’re bringing a lot of guys back and the freshman (Majauskas) is really good. He’s at practice every day doing the same thing. Mike (Holyfield) is just becoming better and better as a player every day, blocking shots and being a big presence down there. Me and Terrance had a good game just playing our role, rebounding, getting pick and pop shots, just running the offense and doing what we do.”
Sophomore Paul Baxter scored 12 points for the Bearkats. Kaheem Ransom dropped 11 points in the win.
Corpus Christi (9-13, 6-3 Southland) was led by Jeff Beverly’s 15 points and John Jordan scored 14 points. Zane Knowles added 10 points in the losing effort.
The Bearkats continue their five-game home stretch against Houston Baptist on Saturday at 4 p.m.