KATY, Texas — Stephen F. Austin has become accustomed to earning the Southland Conference’s NCAA Tournament berth.
“They are the Kentucky of the Southland Conference,” Southeastern Louisiana coach Jay Ladner said.
And after earning their fourth trip to the tournament in five years, the Lumberjacks aren’t happy with just getting in.
T.J. Holyfield had 13 points and 12 rebounds, and Stephen F. Austin rallied for a 59-55 win over Southeastern Louisiana in the Southland championship on Saturday night.
“It’s exciting to be back in the tournament,” said Holyfield, who was voted the tournament MVP. “Coach talked about he wants to coach the best team, and I feel we have to win a certain amount of games to do that, and we have to win a couple games in the tournament to do that.”
Ivan Canette added 10 points for SFA (28-6), which earned its fifth NCAA Tournament appearance and fourth in the last five years after missing last season. The Lumberjacks shot 42 percent from the field and hit seven of 15 3-pointers.
“We haven’t done anything,” SFA coach Kyle Keller said. “Tonight, we won the tournament, but these guys are thirsty to do more. … Our season is starting.”
Joshua Filmore had 14 points, and Marlain Veal added 12 points, six rebounds and five assists for Southeastern Louisiana (22-11), which had its nine-game winning streak snapped.
“We just didn’t execute,” Veal said. “We didn’t trap as much.”
The Lions are still looking for their second NCAA Tournament appearance and first since 2005.
After two free throws by Veal gave the Lions a 51-49 lead, Kevon Harris hit a 3-pointer to give SFA a one-point lead with 3:21 left.
“I just try to play with confidence,” Harris said. “I stepped up and made a big shot.”
Filmore missed a 3-pointer on the Lions’ next trip down the floor, and John Comeaux hit one of two free throws to give the Lumberjacks a 53-51 lead with 2:24 left.
Southeastern Louisiana committed turnovers on its next two possessions, and Holyfield hit a layup with 1:08 remaining to up the Lumberjacks’ lead to four. Filmore hit two free throws with 54 second left to cut the lead to two.
“Once we got ahead of them, all the pressure got on them,” Keller said.
Canette missed a free throw but got his own rebound and hit a layup with 39 seconds left to up the lead back to four, but Veal hit a layup eight seconds later to cut the lead to two. Ty Charles connected on two free throws with 20 seconds remaining, and after Eddy Polanco missed a jumper with 10 seconds left, the Lumberjacks got the rebound to seal it.
Trailing by 14, the Lions responded with a 22-2 run to take a 49-43 lead on a Joshua Filmore 3-pointer with 5:45 left. Filmore hit three 3-pointers during the run. The Lumberjacks responded with six straight points to tie it at 49 on a layup by John Comeaux with 3:51 remaining.
“We had an opportunity to win leading by six,” Ladner said. “They made some tough plays and some big shots at critical times. They deserved to win.”
The Lumberjacks took a 32-25 lead into halftime behind seven points apiece from Shannon Bogues and Holyfield.
Stephen F. Austin: The Lumberjacks had a chance to put it away early in the second half when they took the 14-point lead, but SFA went cold from the field, hitting one field goal over a 12-minute span. The Lumberjacks responded with a 16-6 run to end the game. SFA out-rebounded the Lions 34-27 and held a 16-2 edge in second-chance points.
Southeastern Louisiana: The Lions had the momentum with five minutes left and a six-point lead, but they could not keep it up. The Lions got eight points from their bench — all from Jordan Capps — and cooled off in the second half, shooting 37.5 percent after shooting 55 percent in the first half. The Lions also committed 15 turnovers.
“We turned it over a few critical times there,” Ladner said. “Too many offensive rebounds and putbacks. That ended up being the big difference.”
HE SAID IT
“To win a championship, to win in March, you have to win the paint. You have to dominate points, rebounds. The physicality of your team — I don’t care how big you are — the will of your team has to overcome the other opponent no matter who they are.” — Keller.
Joining Holyfield on the tournament team were Veal and Polanco as well as SFA’s Shannon Bogues and Sam Houston State’s Josh Delaney.
Stephen F. Austin: Awaits its NCAA Tournament opponent.
“I really don’t care who we play,” Keller said. “We have seen enough styles that we aren’t changing. We are going to be who we are that someone’s going to have to adjust to us.”
Southeastern Louisiana: Earned an automatic berth into the NIT after winning the regular-season championship.