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March 12, 2014

SOUTHLAND CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT — Who's hot?

Depth, experience makes for strong post-season play; Bearkats are glad to have it

HUNTSVILLE — When the season is on the line, player rotations get shorter in basketball, or at least that’s typically the case for teams without a lot of depth.

Sam Houston State won’t have that problem tonight when the Bearkats face Oral Roberts in the quarterfinal round of the Southland Conference tournament.

The Kats have nine players averaging at least 11 minutes per game in league action this season, which is not unusual. But even players at the end of the bench have conference tournament experience.  

Sam Houston’s most inexperienced players lead the team in scoring, Southland Conference Newcomer of the Year Jabari Peters (12.8 points) and point guard Kaheem Ransom. The rest of the key players have been there before and understand what it takes to be successful.

Starters Paul Baxter, James Thomas and Michael Holyfield each played important roles in the team’s unexpected success as a No. 6 seed in the tournament last season, when the Kats took down third-seed Oral Roberts in the quarterfinal round.

Key reserves Terrance Motley, Will Bond, Nathaniel Mason and Marquel McKinney had similar roles in 2013, sparking energy off the bench on both ends of the floor.

 Undoubtedly, having as many as 11 players who can deliver quality minutes could prove to be valuable for the Bearkats.

“Probably all of them except for two or three guys know exactly what it feels like to be in this situation and they know what it takes,” Sam Houston head coach Jason Hooten said. “We talked about when we get there, the intensity will raise even another notch. A team like an eighth-seeded team, you can’t be surprised or shocked if they win a game in the first round because when you get there, it’s basically everybody starting over.

“The experience we have playing those three games (in the tournament last season) will pay dividends for us this season.”

Redshirt freshman Dakarai Henderson hasn’t played in the tournament but observed from the bench during the Kats’ run last season.

Henderson didn’t really want to sit a year ago, but admits it turned out to benefit his game as he developed his ballhandling skills and the release on his jump shot.

Now he’s just glad to be a part of a potential NCAA tournament team.

“I feel like our depth is very much an advantage on our team when you’re talking about pros and cons,” Henderson said. “Other teams that we look at on scouting reports, they play maybe seven or eight people and maybe even less in the crucial moments. Coach Hooten knows he’s got a lot of depth on the bench and he has faith in everybody. So whenever we go in, we’re playing to the best of our abilities and helping our team. With that depth, you have a lot of role guys.

“Mike blocks shots and gets rebounds. When he touches the ball in the paint, he usually scores. I come in and shoot or take a wide open lane to the basket if I have it. We all play defense, take charges. Everybody plays their role and that’s why we have so much depth.”

Sam Houston’s quarterfinal matchup against Oral Roberts is scheduled for 7:30 p.m., at the Merrell Center in Katy.

 

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