STEPHEN F. AUSTIN ROLLS TO ITS THIRD CONSECUTIVE TOURNAMENT TITLE - Mar 13, 2016
For the third consecutive season, Stephen F. Austin used the Southland Conference Men's Basketball Tournament to be properly fitted for the Big Dance.
The top-seeded Lumberjacks spotted second-seed Texas A&M-Corpus Christi the game's first six points before proceeding to overwhelm the Islanders 82-60 at Merrell Center on Saturday night to become the first Southland team to win at least three straight tournament titles since former-member Louisiana-Monroe won four consecutive championships from 1990-93. En route to earning the automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament, coach Brad Underwood's team won its 20th straight game and will await their destination when the brackets are announced on Sunday afternoon.
SFA (27-5) won its fourth Southland Tournament crown, which ties them with Lamar for the second-most championships, trailing the six that Louisiana-Monroe captured.
"We got off to a slow start...a little tight," Underwood said. "Then it settled in."
As has been the case most of the season, it was the Lumberjacks' defense that set the foundation for victory. After Ehab Amin (6'3''-G-95)'s basket tied the game at 10-all with 13:16 left in the first half, SFA held A&M-Corpus Christi (25-7) without a field goal for 9:59 until Joe Kilgore (6'5''-G-96)'s dunk finally got the Islanders out of their quagmire.
By then, the Lumberjacks had all put the game away, using a 33-10 run to put them up 43-20. Senior Clide Geffrard (6'5''-F-94) was key to the offensive side of matters, as he hit a pair of 3-pointers that helped spark the Lumberjacks' outburst. After missing last year's title game with a stress fracture, Geffrard scored a team-high 18 points and grabbed six rebounds, which led to a spot on the All-Tournament Team.
En route to taking a 48-29 lead at intermission, SFA had held the Islanders' starting five to just eight points on 5 of 15 shooting while also forcing 11 of A&M-Corpus Christi's 20 turnovers.
"We wanted to make them score through our defense in the half-court," Underwood said. "Once we did that, through our last defense assignment, which was rebound the basketball, we really felt we could exploit them in transition. All of that combined was really what broke that stretch open."
The Lumberjacks cashed in 34 points off turnovers along with keeping the A&M-Corpus Christi guards from effectively distributing the ball, as they finished with only eight assists.
"Transition baskets are most difficult thing to defend in basketball," Islanders coach Willis Wilson , whose team will receive a postseason invitational either Sunday or Monday, said. "When you have turnovers, typically what you don't have is defense and balance. It's really difficult to set your defense."
Two-time conference player of the year Thomas Walkup (6'4''-G/F) became the first player in Southland history to be named the Tourney's MVP three times. The senior scored 17 points and grabbed four rebounds on Saturday, etching his name in the Southland archives.
"It's not something you take for granted," Walkupv. "Maybe in 10-15 years, I'll look back and see how special it is. Right now, it's about making the tournament as a team."
"It's hard to talk about Tom because of how much puts into this," Underwood said. "I'll put his numbers against anybody at any level. To go do what he did and to be ultimately identified by players, because this is a team sport, are what they do in the win column. He's our school's all-time winningest player.....he's got four rings, and that's special."
After being eliminated by Utah in the second round last season, the Lumberjacks feel that not only can they shake off the sting of that defeat, they can also stamp their claim among the nation's premier programs.
"We're playing our best basketball. Why would I think any different?" Underwood said. "This team is playing as well as anybody in the country."
Courtesy of Southland Conf.
Southland Conf. Tournament Final: Stephen F. Austin - A&M-Corpus Christi 82-60 Southland Conf. Tournament Semifinals: Stephen F. Austin - Houston Baptist 104-68 A&M-Corpus Christi - Sam Houston State 79-76
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