Stephen F. Austin earns first NCAA bid
KATY, Texas (AP)—Matt Kingsley almost left Stephen F. Austin after his redshirt freshman season because he wasn’t getting enough playing time. He decided to stay, and four years later he can’t imagine a better ending to his college career.
Kingsley scored 20 points and Stephen F. Austin earned the program’s first NCAA tournament berth with a 68-57 victory over Texas-San Antonio on Sunday in the Southland Conference championship game.
The 6-foot-9 Kingsley, the league’s player of the pear during the regular season, was also named the tournament’s MVP.
“This is unbelievable, man,” Kingsley said. “What an awesome way to go out, going to the NCAA tournament. You can’t go out any better way.”
Josh Alexander and Eddie Williams added 16 points each for the top-seeded Lumberjacks (24-7), who have won eight straight games. Stephen F. Austin won the league’s regular-season title last season, too, but lost to Northwestern State in the semifinals of the conference tournament.
This year, the Lumberjacks ran onto the court to celebrate and were going to a nearby restaurant to watch the NCAA selection show and await their matchup.
“It’s crazy,” Williams said. “You dream of this when you’re a kid, watching it on TV. You go to the gym to work on your game, just to get to this point, you know? I’m dumbfounded right now.”
Devin Gibson scored 23 points for the sixth-seeded Roadrunners (19-13), who made a surprise run to the title game after losing five of their last seven games in the regular season.
The Lumberjacks had the Southland’s top defense during the regular season and held Texas-San Antonio to 36 percent shooting in the second half. The Roadrunners led the league in 3-pointers during the regular season, but were 7-for-27 from 3-point range on Sunday.
Gibson hit three 3-pointers in the first 9 minutes to give Texas-San Antonio the lead.
Travis Gabbidon, the Roadrunners’ second-leading scorer, twisted his right ankle on a drive and left the game with 10:22 to go in the first half. Omar Johnson scored on Texas-San Antonio’s next possession for a 22-17 lead.
“We took some hard blows from them in the beginning,” Stephen F. Austin coach Danny Kaspar said. “In timeouts, I told our guys, ‘They’re throwing their best punches at us, and we’re not falling.”’
Stephen F. Austin then went on a 9-0 run, holding the Roadrunners scoreless for 7 minutes. Texas-San Antonio missed five straight shots and had four turnovers before Morris Smith’s layup with 3:40 left in the half to cut the Lumberjacks’ lead to 26-24.
Gabbidon returned, but Kingsley had four points and two assists late in the half to help Stephen F. Austin build a 37-28 lead.
“We got away from our game plan in the last few minutes (of the first half),” Texas-San Antonio coach Brooks Thompson said. “We were letting them score, breaking down and maybe thinking a little bit too much. And then offensively, we got a little stagnant.”
Williams opened the second half with a driving layup to push Stephen F. Austin’s lead into double figures for the first time. The Roadrunners missed five of their first six shots after halftime.
Gabbidon hit a 3-pointer with 14:41 left to cut the Roadrunners’ deficit to 44-36, but Alexander scored twice and Kingsley rattled in a shot from the baseline to keep the Lumberjacks in control.
Williams converted two steals into fast-break layups, and Stephen F. Austin led 54-43. Texas-San Antonio pulled within six, but Williams drove for two more layups to stretch the lead back to 10.
Gibson hit two free throws and drove for a basket to launch a last-ditch Roadrunners’ rally. But Alexander converted a fast-break layup with 2:01 left and Texas-San Antonio got no closer than seven the rest of the way.
“Our guys have, this season and especially this last week, given everything they had to win this tournament,” Thompson said. “I think they came as close as they could, and fell a little bit short.”
The Lumberjacks, meanwhile, have at least one more game to go.
Once the euphoria dies down, Kaspar said he’ll give his team a stern talk about getting refocused. Kaspar was an assistant coach under Billy Tubbs at Lamar in 1980, when the Cardinals upset Weber State and Oregon State to reach the Sweet 16.
“I’m going to tell them, ‘We’re not finished, guys,”’ he said. “If you believe in yourself, anything can happen. We’re going to win. We’re not just going to participate.”