ABILENE — A battle between Southland Conference heavyweights required extra rounds, and the Bearkats landed the final punch.
Sam Houston State watched a 21-point lead evaporate on Saturday at Abilene Christian, but in the moments that mattered most, a player that head coach Jason Hooten has called the team's “defensive stopper” delivered their biggest shot of the season.
With the game tied at 83 with just over 30 seconds left in the second overtime, Kats senior guard Marcus Harris caught a pass near midcourt, took two dribbles and knocked down a 3-pointer over an ACU defender. Moments later on the defensive end, he forced a turnover that secured a 90-85 Sam Houston State victory.
The win marked the Bearkats’ 11th straight to begin Southland Conference play, tying a school record. It also extended their lead over second-place Abilene Christian to three games.
"I had hit a couple earlier, so I was feeling good," said Harris, who was 9 of 9 from the field with a game-high 23 points. "I just shot it with confidence and it happened to go in."
The Bearkats (11-0 in Southland Conference, 16-8 overall) exploded out of the gates, building a 21-point lead by the 6:14 mark of the first half. However, Abilene Christian closed the half on an 11-4 run, and carried the momentum into the second half.
The Wildcats outscored Sam Houston State 25-10 over the first 12:48 out of the break to take a 48-47 lead. Both teams would trade blows for the remainder of the night, with 10 lead changes the rest of the way.
"I was a little disappointed in our intensity level when we started the second half, but I thought we really locked in around the 12-minute mark and started to guard better the rest of the way," Hooten said. "This says a lot about our guys. They have become tough and resilient, and that's a team that can be special."
Abilene Christian sent the game to overtime on a Payten Ricks 3-pointer with less than a second remaining in regulation. Bearkats junior forward Kai Mitchell then helped extend the game with a game-tying layup in the final seconds of the first overtime.
In the second extra period, Harris made the difference by knocking down four shots — including a pair of late 3s — for 10 points.
"Our team is so unselfish," said Sam Houston State senior guard Cameron Delaney, who finished with 19 points. "When Marcus started getting hot, we kept getting him the ball. My man just kept making big play after big play."
In total, five players scored in double figures for the Kats. Mitchell poured in 21 points, while senior forward Albert Almanza and senior guard Josh Delaney added 10 each.
Sam Houston State returns to action Wednesday night at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.