Sam Houston State wins Southland tournament title
KATY, Texas (AP)—Sam Houston State was knocked out of the Southland Conference tournament in the first round last year.
The Bearkats used that tough loss as motivation to make sure they’d stay at this season’s tournament a lot longer.
They reached their goal Saturday with Gilberto Clavell scoring 21 points to lead Sam Houston State to an easy 64-48 win over Stephen F. Austin for the conference’s automatic NCAA tournament berth.
“We had beaten San Antonio nine times in a row before that,” coach Bob Marlin said of last year’s first-round loss to Texas-San Antonio. “We used that as motivation. We felt like we had the best team and we were able to prove it.”
Top-seeded Sam Houston State (25-7) earned its second NCAA tournament berth and first since 2003.
The Bearkats never trailed in this one after taking advantage of poor first-half shooting by Stephen F. Austin to build a big lead. The Lumberjacks never got back within single digits.
Clavell was happy to have had one of his best games in front of his family, which surprised him on Saturday morning with a visit from Puerto Rico.
“They came to this game and I don’t get to see them very much,” he said. “My dad, my mom, they were crying. It is the perfect team and great coaches. This win was the best win of my life so far.”
Jereal Scott had 13 points for Stephen F. Austin (23-9), which won the tournament last year.
It was Sam Houston’s most lopsided win in the tournament by far after winning by five in the first round and just three in the second. Marlin received a text message from former New York Knicks and Houston Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy on Saturday morning that addressed the first two games.
“The text said: ‘Coach, congratulations on a great season. Finish it out strong and the two struggles in the first two games will help you. Tell the guys to attack,”’ Marlin said. “That’s what we talked about and I felt like we did that. It was a little bit easier than we thought it would be in the first half.”
The Bearkats also beat Stephen F. Austin the last time they won the tournament, but they needed overtime to get the 69-66 victory seven years ago.
Corey Allmond added 19 points and Ashton Mitchell had 13 points and six assists for Sam Houston.
The Lumberjacks shot just 31 percent to the almost 47 percent shooting by the Bearkats.
Stephen F. Austin coach Danny Kaspar thought that his young team may have let nerves get to it in the first half.
“They did a very good job in the first half,” Kaspar said of Sam Houston. “Part of the problem was that we were not as focused as we should be. I’m going to attribute some of that to inexperience and some of that to Sam Houston’s play. I don’t think we played with as much poise as they did.”
Stephen F. Austin used a 9-2 run, aided by its full-court press, to cut the lead to 44-32 with about 13 minutes left. But Sam Houston outscored the Lumberjacks 10-4 to regain a comfortable advantage.
A 10-4 run by Sam Houston, capped by a dunk by Clavell, pushed its lead to 23-11 midway through the first half. The Lumberjacks made a free throw after that before the Bearkats scored eight straight points to extend the lead to 31-12 about five minutes before halftime.
Stephen F. Austin’s Eddie Williams said it was difficult to deal with Sam Houston’s hot shooting in the first half.
“It looked like they couldn’t miss,” he said. “It looked like the goal was the ocean for them.”