Two weeks ago, the Sam Houston State Bearkats notched their first Southland Conference victory, beating Northwestern State 80-73 at Huntsville’s Johnson Coliseum.

After dropping their first two conference decisions, the Bearkats got off the mat and got it done against the team picked to win the Southland in ’06. That victory over the Demons kick-started something good for SHSU, which went on and won three road games in a row, defeating Texas-San Antonio, Texas State and Southeastern Louisiana.

Tonight, the Bearkats roll back into Huntsville on a four-game winning streak. Seeking to stay hot, Bob Marlin’s squad hosts an equally torrid Texas-Arlington team at 7 p.m. in Johnson Coliseum.

“We’ve really been stressing and focusing on closing games out,” sophomore guard Jeremy Thomas said after practice Friday. “When the game’s at the point where it could go either way, that is the point when we’ve got to take over. That’s what we’ve been doing, being aggressive instead of just standing back and waiting to see what happens.”

Another key during this four-game stretch has been the play of the Bearkat reserves. In Thursday’s 68-64 victory at Southeastern Louisiana, Marlin got 23 points from his bench, while the Lions mustered only three. Last weekend, the Bearkat bench outscored Texas State 24-20 in an 80-70 win in San Marcos.

Ryan Griffin, a 6-7 junior forward from San Antonio Reagan, came off the bench and scored 12 points against the rival Bobcats. Freshman Reggie Rawlins and junior Aaron Wade each scored seven points in the win at Hammond, La.

Sam Houston State (13-5 overall) is currently in a three-way tie for third place with the Mavericks and McNeese State, all with 4-2 Southland marks. UTA is 11-8 on the season. The Mavericks defeated Stephen F. Austin 65-59 Thursday night in Nacogdoches.

Senior Steven Thomas scored 18 points and ripped down a career-high 16 rebounds for UTA on Thursday, while guard Jarrett Howell added 14 points with three assists.

“They’re kind of similar to Southeastern,” Griffin said of the Mavericks. “They’ve got an inside presence with two seniors — Thomas and (Jermaine) Griffin. We’ve got to guard them because their whole team revolves around them.”

SHSU’s Thomas said the Mavericks also have some solid 3-point shooters who must be contained if the Bearkats want to move their win streak to five tonight.

“Their outside guys, they’re smaller guards who are capable of shooting from way out there. We’ve got to put some pressure on them,” Thomas said. “We’ve just got to play our game, and when it’s there for the taking, we’ve got to go out and get it.”

Chris Jordan, SHSU’s only senior, leads the Bearkats in scoring with a 12.6 average. He hit 21 points at Southeastern Louisiana and 20 at Texas State.

SHSU leads the all-time series with Texas-Arlington 24 victories to 17. Last season, the Bearkats cruised 77-54 in Huntsville in the only meeting with the Mavericks. Sam Houston State has won seven of its past 10 meetings with Texas-Arlington.

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