The Sam Houston State Bearkats might have a bevy of new faces, but the fast-paced, high-intensity approach that became a trademark of last season’s 12-win turnaround hasn’t gone anywhere.
Sam Houston State overwhelmed Howard Payne on both ends of the court, rolling to a 91-49 victory in Wednesday’s season opener at Johnson Coliseum.
"I don't think we had a great start, but I though our kids fought hard," SHSU head coach Ravon Justice said. "We finished the game strong."
Howard Payne hung with the Bearkats in the early stages of the game, even pulling ahead by three at the 3:32 mark of the first quarter. It would be all Sam Houston State after that, however.
The Kats took over the game with defensive pressure, holding their opponent without a field goal for the next 11:18 and rattling off a 28-4 run to go up by 21. SHSU took a 19-point lead into the break, but would lead by at least 20 the rest of the night after senior guard Jaylonn Walker knocked down a 3-pointer 41 seconds into the second half.
Sam Houston State forced 40 turnovers, resulting in 55 points.
"That's who we want to be," Justice added. "We want to be better defenders every possession and try to defend for 40 minutes. That slow start wasn't what we were expecting, but you want to get those first-game jitters out ... once we got going, I thought we were OK."
Senior center Kiera McKinney led the way for the Kats, recording 14 points and 13 rebounds for a double-double, while adding five blocks as well.
"Being a senior, I know I have to work hard and give it my best since it's my last year," McKinney said. "Going out every time and working hard is my goal."
Senior guard Jenniffer Oramas scored a game-high 19 points for the Bearkats — and some new faces also provided production.
Junior transfer Faith Cook had eight points, three assists and a steal, while true freshman Rahmena Henderson recorded 10 points.
"Those new kids will help," Justice said. "It's just a matter of making them a part of our foundation and making sure they're consistent."
The Bearkats return to action Sunday at 3 p.m. with a home game against UL Lafayette. After that, they’ll begin a three-game road stretch that includes trips to Texas Tech (Nov. 14), Ole Miss (Nov. 26) and Oral Roberts (Nov. 30).