THIBODAUX, La. — Sam Houston State knew it was going to be in a dogfight Saturday night with Nicholls State in the Southland Conference opener. After all, the Colonels were off to a 1-0 conference start, having already knocked off Stephen F. Austin on Thursday. That and Thibodaux, La., is never an easy place to play.

Unfortunately for the Kats, the fight didn’t go their way as Nicholls grabbed an 80-73 victory at Stopher Gymnasium.

“Nicholls played well and they have a good basketball team,” SHSU head coach Bob Marlin said. “They are undefeated at home and are going to win a lot of basketball games. We had a problem executing tonight, got outrebounded, got beat at the line and from 3. Those three things hurt us and are the reason they won. The ball bounced to them tonight, and give them a lot of credit. They deserved to win and did.”

Trailing 63-57 late in the second half, SHSU rallied to knot it up, but the Colonels found away to get open and knocked down some clutch baskets down the stretch to seal the victory.

Jejuan Plair led the Kats with 25 points. Chris Jordan and John Gardiner added 12 and 10 points each as SHSU dropped to 9-4 overall and 0-1 in SLC play.

After scoring just one point in the first half, the Colonels’ leading scorer Stefan Blaszczynski had a major impact in the second, scoring 21 to finish with a team-high 22.

The Colonels came out firing in the second half after taking a 36-31 lead into the break and pushed it up to six at 47-41 with just under 15 minutes to go. The Kats then strung together four consecutive 3s by freshman Reggie Rawlins, Chris Jordan and two by Plair to regain the lead at 53-51, their final one of the game.

“It felt like we just didn’t come to play today,” Plair said. “We are a team that knows we have to come out and play good ball in order to win games. We aren’t one of those teams that can come in with 50 percent effort and win games. Today we were one of those teams. Hustle was there at times, but it just wasn’t enough.”

Plair went on an early rampage in the first half, scoring 10 of the Kats’ first 14 points. He hit a 3-pointer with just under 15 minutes to play to give SHSU a 14-11 lead. After Nicholls responded with a basket, Bright hit a 3 of his own to make it 17-12.

The Colonels came right back and cut it to 17-16 on consecutive buckets by Chris Paige and Cyril Djoukeng (pronounced “Juke-en”), but the Kats went on a 7-0 run to go up six with 8:29 left in the half.

Again, Nicholls came back and scored eight straight, including back-to-back 3s by Djoukeng to take its first lead of the game at 26-24 since the 17:44 mark.

A 3 by Jordan put the Kats back on top at 29-28, but the Colonels outscored SHSU 8-2 the rest of the way to take a 36-31 lead into the break.

The Kats had another poor performance from the line in the first, going 1-of-7, including two misses by Bright in the final seconds that could have made it a three-point deficit.

While SHSU shut down Blaszczynski, Djoukeng was the story in the first. He came into the game averaging 6.6 points a contest and had hit just five 3s all season. Before the break, he had 15 points and was 3-of-5 from behind the arc. He finished the game with 20.

“We needed to have a really good first half, and we came out hot, but struggled,” Marlin said. “We lost the game in the first half. Cyril Djoukeng killed us. He had 15 points in the first half and we just couldn’t guard him.”

Nicholls State shot lights out from the floor, hitting 49 percent of its shots for the game. The Colonels also burned it up from 3-point range, going 10-of-18, or 55 percent. They also outrebounded the Kats 38-31.

The Bearkats return home for two straight conference games, beginning with McNeese State on Thursday. Northwestern State comes to Huntsville on Saturday, then the Kats start a three-game road swing.

“There are two ways to look at this. It’s a disappointing loss and we lost the battle tonight, but we have a war to fight. Nicholls is going to beat a lot of teams, especially at home. In 2000, we lost our first game, but came back and won the conference title. It can be done, but we have to play better. Tonight we just didn’t play good enough.”

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