There was not much Sam Houston State could do when Stephen F. Austin freshman Josh Alexander let loose a 3-pointer with 10 seconds left in the game.

Up 72-70, the Bearkats had the play well defended, but Alexander somehow got the ball to rip through the bottom of net, shooting it with a hand in his face and falling off his back foot.

SHSU’s Jejuan Plair quickly pushed the ball up the court and got a decent look at a shot. The ball missed its mark, and after a brief scuffle for the rebound, Lumberjack players rushed out onto the court to celebrate a 73-72 victory.

The Bearkats (20-8 overall, 11-5 in Southland Conference play) left it all on the court, rallying from 15 points down late in the second half only to come up a point short in the end.

“We got kicked around in the post all night, but actually we did a good job on Alexander. He just made the shot in the end,” said SHSU forward Ryan Bright, who led the Kats with 19 points and six rebounds. “We really didn’t deserve to be in it, but we fought back hard in the end.”

Sam Houston trailed for all but a minute of the game. The Lumberjacks (16-11, 9-7) eventually pushed the lead up to 15 with 10 minutes left to go, and were up 70-56 at the 4:20 mark when Alexander scored his first basket of the game on a tipin.

Then like a fog had been lifted, things finally started to go right for the Kats. Bright hit a 3 from the top of the key to cut the lead to 11, and after a defensive stop, sophomore Jeremy Thomas followed with what appeared to be another 3-pointer.

But the official on the other side of the court overruled the 3-point call made by the referee standing behind Thomas, and said his foot was across the line to make it a two.

SHSU went on to score 11 more unanswered points and took its first lead since the opening seconds of the game, when John Gardiner put one in off the glass underneath the basket to make it 72-70 with under a minute to go.

But Alexander ended any hopes of a comeback.

“We did not do a good job defensively at all,” SHSU head coach Bob Marlin said. “They came out in the second half and did a good job being patient on offense to get some easy baskets in the post. Our guys fought back, but everything went right for SFA.

“They were getting every break, getting loose balls and getting shots to fall in. But our guys fought back like they have all year and had an opportunity to win the game.”

The Lumberjacks came out with the intensity of playing in a championship game. And in a sense, they were.

Sam Houston came into the contest having already clinched the No. 2 seed in the upcoming Southland Conference Tournament, which begins at four separate campus sites Tuesday.

But SFA needed a win to capture the No. 4 seed and host an opening-round game. It came down to either playing in Nacogdoches on Tuesday or making the long bus ride to Hammond, La., to play Southeastern Louisiana.

“It was the difference for them being the No. 4 seed or the No. 6,” Marlin said. “They came out and played with more of a sense of urgency early and we were too relaxed. We talked at halftime about there being a chance to seize this game, and it was there in the end.

“As a coach, I’m proud of the guys for not backing down and continuing to fight when every thing possible had gone wrong.”

SFA dominated in the paint in the first half, outscoring the Bearkats 24-12 thanks to the play of Antuane Miller. The big forward led all scorers with 21 points, 15 coming in the first half.

Turnovers also hurt SHSU in the first half, limiting scoring opportunities, despite shooting 50 percent from the field. The Kats only turned it over three times in the second.

It also didn’t help that senior Chris Jordan, who was honored as SHSU’s only senior before Saturday’s tip, was sick. After Wednesday’s win over Texas-Arlington when he scored 24 points, Jordan said he wasn’t feeling well. As Saturday’s game approached, he got worse and it showed. He only played 23 minutes and scored five points against SFA.

“Chris didn’t practice Thursday, and he didn’t practice much (Friday),” Marlin said. “He seems to be doing better, he is taking some medication. He just could never catch his breath and couldn’t get into any kind of rhythm.

“Factor that into the things that went right for SFA. How many times does Chris go 2-for-7? That’s his lowest output of the season, especially in conference play.”

Plair finished the game with 14 points, all coming in the second half, and Thomas added 11. Gardiner had eight and Shamir McDaniel chipped in seven for the Kats.

With the tournament bracket set, the eight remaining Southland teams will battle it out for the tournament championship and the right to represent the conference at the NCAA Tournament.

As it stands, No. 1 Northwestern State (22-7, 15-1) will host No. 8 Texas-San Antonio (11-16, 6-10), No. 2 SHSU hosts No. 7 Texas-Arlington (14-15, 7-9), No. 3 Southeastern Louisiana (16-11, 10-6) hosts No. 6 Lamar (16-13, 9-7) and No. 4 SFA will welcome No. 5 McNeese State (14-13, 9-7), with all of the games taking place Tuesday at 7 p.m.

While the Bearkats would have liked to have carried the momentum of a win over their rival into the tournament, they do have something positive to take into Tuesday’s matchup — effort.

“It’s important to roll over what we were able to do in the end come tournament time,” Bright said. “The crowd was in it, and it was exciting. Hopefully, they will all be back Tuesday night.”



Notes: SHSU forward Ryan Griffin took an elbow to the face early in the second half and left the game with a broken nose. He didn’t return, but isn’t expected to miss Tuesday’s game with UTA.