Ambitious non-conference scheduling appears to be paying dividends for the Sam Houston Bearkats and Central Arkansas Bears as the second weekend of Southland Conference play gets underway.
After a challenging early-season slate that featured a combined four games against ranked opponents — including showdowns with No. 2 Baylor and No. 4 Texas — as well as two more against teams receiving Top 25 votes, the Bearkats (8-5, 2-0) and Bears (3-7, 2-0) are set to meet Saturday in a game that will break up a three-way tie atop the Southland. Tipoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. in Conway, Ark.
Sam Houston enters the contest riding a five-game winning streak, which started on Dec. 19 with an 82-69 win over Rice. After holding off Nicholls 84-81 in last week's Southland opener, the Bearkats had a more comfortable win in their most recent outing, beating Southeastern Louisiana 70-52.
Senior guard Demarkus Lampley has played a pivotal role in Sam Houston’s recent success, averaging 24 points on 60% shooting over the past two games. The first-year starter has also pulled down 15 rebounds and connected on 12-of-20 3-point attempts since league play began.
Junior guard and first-team all-conference selection Zach Nutall leads the Bearkats in scoring with 18.9 points per game on the season, with junior forward Tristan Ikpe averaging a team-high 5.3 rebounds per game.
The Bears, meanwhile, are anchored by the senior backcourt duo of Rylan Bergersen and DeAndre Jones, which is currently combining to average 27.2 points per game.
Abilene Christian — the only Southland team with a top-100 NET ranking — is tied with Sam Houston and Central Arkansas at 2-0 in league play. With ACU off until Jan. 16 due to rescheduling within the conference, however, Saturday’s winner will stand alone in first place.