Bearkats top Liberty, remain tied atop CUSA standings

Feb. 17—HUNTSVILLE — After getting handed a loss on Jan. 20 in Lynchburg, Sam Houston men's basketball came out with a vengeance to get even with the Flames.

The Bearkats opened the game with an 18-2 run that landed them a major lead after six minutes. While taking a 50-27 lead into the midway point, the Kats appeared to be running on all cylinders.

Liberty had a different thought, led by redshirt junior Kaden Metheny the Flames outscored the Bearkats by 13 in the second half to make things interesting late. Despite the surge the Flames never got within eight points.

Sam Houston walked out with an 83-73 win over the Flames to stay tied with Louisiana Tech for the top seed in CUSA.

"I was proud of our level of execution for the first 30 minutes of the game," Sam Houston head coach Chris Mudge said. "We got up 25 on a championship-level team and I was proud of how tough we were. We guarded the three-point line and the things I told our guys would happen, happened and they went on a run. We weathered the storm and we lost some shooters, which you can't do against a team like that."

The second half featured some key things that Kats had to battle against. Cameron Huefner, Lamar Wilkerson and Marcus Boykin were forced to play with four fouls for the back half of the game. Due to the fouls, the trio averaged just under 11 minutes of play. Wilkerson led with 14 minutes in the second half.

Losing those guys forced Mudge to play some out of rotation which caused some lapse on the defensive end. Doing so let some Flame shooters get hot with three shooters hitting double-digit points in the final 20 minutes.

"We let up a bit and we were just a step off of their high-level shooters," Mudge said. "You can't do that against the high level of shooters that they have. Our level of execution dropped and they made us pay for it. Offensively, some of it was my fault. I slowed it down to try and run some clock and we got complacent. We weathered the storm and got a few stops."

The fortunate thing for Sam Houston was the 23-point lead it had at halftime. No matter how bad things got, Liberty had to erase that deficit.

Getting out to a lead was something that Liberty did well against the 'Kats on the road. Early in the game, the Kats relied on a mid-range shot to get the score up. Damon Nicholas Jr., Boykin and Wilkerson all added a basket to help get the Kats lead up.

After a Flame layup, the Kats rattled off a 12-0 run that expanded the game open. Wilkerson, who had a great at Liberty, finished with 12 points in the first half and looked to be a big key in getting another win.

"It was great because it set the tone. We talked about wanting to throw the first punch all week and set the tone for our style and toughness," Mudge said. "I was proud of our guys for that. I thought it continued with our play to start the second half. At Liberty, they did that and they won because they started off on the right foot."

In the non-conference schedule, Mudge set his team up for games like this. The Bearkats played tough teams so that they would have seen adversity before the games started to mean something and they were left high and dry.

That paid off.

Liberty gave the Bearkats everything they could handle in the second half but Sam Houston faced it and continued to fight back.

"Our team doesn't get phased. They went on a 19-1, run which unfortunately happens in the game of basketball," Mudge said. "Our guys weren't bothered and didn't get freaked out. They did what they needed to do and that's what makes this team really good."

As the season continues to wind down, the games continue to roll in and get harder. After going 2-0 at home this week, the Bearkats have to hit the road to face two teams that gave them a fight in Huntsville.

The Kats start their road trip with their second meeting with former head coach Jason Hooten at the Pan Am Center in Las Cruces before rounding out the trip with a Saturday game at the University of Texas El Paso.

CUSA teams are a combined 10-39 when playing on the road so the Kats will be facing a tall task with New Mexico State a perfect 5-0 at home in Conference play.

"We are going to have to play really tough and take care of the ball," Mudge said. "They are both so tough and physical. We are going to have to be able to do that. We had two really tough games against them, and on the road, you have to be even better. A championship-level team is going to have to do that."

Sam Houston and New Mexico State will square off at 8 p.m. Thursday in Las Cruces. The game will be broadcast on CBS Sports Net.