Sam Houston State had three looks at a 3-pointer in the final six seconds Thursday night, but couldn’t get any of them to fall in a 60-57 loss to McNeese State at Johnson Coliseum.

The loss dropped the Bearkats to 9-5 on the season and a disappointing 0-2 in Southland Conference play. The Cowboys improved to 3-0 in SLC play and 8-6 overall.

“It was a good college basketball game that was hard fought, and I’m proud of the effort our guys gave,” SHSU head coach Bob Marlin said. “I thought we really competed against a bigger and older team. They hit some big shots late and we didn’t.”

After guard John Ford hit a pair of free throws to give the Cowboys the lead with 13 seconds left in the game, SHSU advanced the ball past midcourt and quickly called a timeout to set up a play to try to tie it.

But Ryan Bright missed a shot from the right corner, and Shamir McDaniel grabbed the rebound and didn’t connect either before Bright got off another desperation shot that came up short to end it.

After trailing for most of the game, SHSU fought back to tie it and take the lead at 37-33 on a 3 by McDaniel and a layin by Chris Jordan and one from John Gardiner.

The Cowboys rallied to knot it at 37-37 until a 3 by Jordan gave the Kats a 40-37 advantage.

But McNeese went on to hit five 3-pointers on its next six possessions — two by J.T. Williams — to go up 52-49 with just under four minutes to go.

“J.T. Williams is having a great year and he came up with some big shots for them down the stretch,” Marlin said. “They hit some 3s late and came back to take the lead. We never led in the final five minutes of the game, but we had some opportunities. The ball just didn’t bounce our way.”

SHSU pulled within one at 54-53 on a pair of free throws by Jordan with 1:45 left in the game, but another basket by Williams made it a three-point contest a few seconds later.

Freshman Reggie Rawlins, who provided a spark for the Kats in the second half, hit a big 3 to tie it at 56 at the 1:03 mark. Williams then hit a floater in the lane, and after McDaniel converted only one free throw in a one-and-one situation, Ford came through with the eventual game winning free throws.

“It’s a tough loss because now we are 0-2 and having to play catch-up,” said Rawlins, who finished the game with 11 points. “We have a goal to win conference and to do that we can’t lose games like this. We should have won this game just like we should have won at Nicholls, but we didn’t finish.”

The Bearkats looked like a totally different basketball team in the second half. They went into the break down 27-22 thanks to 15 turnovers. SHSU also only made six field goals in the first.

In the second, the Kats committed only six turnovers and hit 13-of-31, or 41.9 percent, of their shots.

Jordan led the Kats with 15 points, and Bright finished with 12. Jejuan Plair was limited to just four points after battling cramps for most of the second half.

“This was a well-deserved win for us,” McNeese head coach Tic Price said. “Sam Houston is a fine basketball team, and anytime you come to Huntsville, it is going to be a battle.

“I think the big key for us was locking down the 3-point shot. And I thought we did a good job on Bright, Jordan and Plair. Those are the three guys that really make them go. I thought for the most part we held our own, but it came down to making plays. In the end we did that.”

The Bearkats did win the battle on the boards. SHSU outrebounded the Cowboys 39-32. Bright finished the game with a double-double thanks pulling down 13 boards.

But the killer for the Kats came on turnovers and free-throw shooting. McNeese outscored SHSU 22-7 off turnovers, and the Bearkats went a dismal 13-of-25 from the line.

“We’re 324 out of 326 (in free-throw shooting) Division I basketball teams,” Marlin said. “Until we take care of that, we aren’t going to be able to win. We did battle all the way to the end, and I was surprised that we got three 3-point attempts. We didn’t get a lot of offense rhythm, but the credit goes to them. They played great defense.

“Like I said before, there isn’t a game in conference we can’t win, but there isn’t any games we can’t lose either.”

The Bearkats will be back in action Saturday when league favorite Northwestern State comes to town for a 7 p.m. tipoff.

Game notes: The start of Thursday’s game was delayed for nearly half an hour because of a scoreboard malfunction. The Bearkats and the Cowboys had to play the entire game with a portable game clock propped up on the scoring table.

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