The Sam Houston State Bearkats put their six game winning streak on the line Saturday night as the Kats took on the Southeastern Louisiana Lions at Johnson Coliseum.
With strong performances from sophomore guard John Dewey III and senior center Aurimas Majauskas, the Bearkats reeled off their seventh consecutive win, defeating the Lions 71-69.
“It really came down to the end and we didn’t really plan on it being that way,” head coach Jason Hooten said. “I have to give Southeastern a lot of credit. I think the last three years our games have came down to the very end, but I think we needed a game like that.”
The Kats have shot the ball extremely well over the course of their last six games, but with a weeklong break between outings, SHSU came out sluggish to start Saturday night’s game against the Lions.
SHSU was trailing SLU with just under 10 minutes to play in the first half. The Kats were shooting just 38.9 percent from the field when they finally started to turn things around. Led by Dewey III and senior guard Dakarai Henderson, the Bearkats sparked an 18-2 run to end the first half on a positive note.
“We didn’t really notice the scoreboard towards the end of the first half,” Dewey III said. “We were just playing to get stops and we played very good transition offense.”
The scoring run changed the swing of momentum for the Bearkats as they went into halftime with a 37-25 edge over the Lions.
Coming out of the break, SHSU returned to its normal form of playing intense defense and sharing the basketball. The team extended its lead to 16 points, but the Lions started to crawl back when they switched to a 1-3-1 zone. SLU’s defensive change slowed the Kats down on the offensive end, which allowed the Lions to close the deficit to two points with only seconds left to play.
“They switched defenses on us and it slowed us down on offense,” Majauskas said. “That was the biggest problem today. I think we weren’t able to adjust to their defensive switch, but we know conference is going to be like that. Every game could go down to the wire. It doesn’t matter if you’re 20 points up. We just kept fighting.”
Four Bearkats finished the game in double digits scoring. Majauskas led the Kats with 16 points, followed by Dewey III with 15 points; Henderson added 11 points, while senior guard Paul Baxter scored 10 points.
“I was just playing my game,” Majauskas said. “Before the season we played a lot of major teams, like Baylor, who has a lot of length. I’m pretty sure I’m used to it [playing against length] already and I just played my game.”
SHSU finished the game shooting 47 percent (26-55) from the field and 33 percent (7-21) from behind the three-point line, but the major factor in Saturday’s win was the Kats’ defense.
The Bearkats finished with a total of 10 blocks, 10 steals and forced the Lions into committing 19 turnovers. However, SLU’s leading scorer junior guard Davon Hayes gave the Bearkat defense headaches, finishing with a game-high 23 points.
“He’s a good player first of all,” Hooten said. “He’s 6’6” and he’s a guard; but the toughest thing on that is they run a ton of post-up plays and he sets the screen on it, so defensively you have to bump. I know he’s a good player, but I didn’t expect him to come in here and make seven threes.”
Dewey III had the duty of guarding the Southland Conference’s No. 15 scorer sophomore guard Marlain Veal. Dewey played tremendous defense on the Lions’ guard all night, as Veal was held to only one point in the first half, and seven points total. Dewey III forced Veal into shooting 25 percent (2-8) from the field and forced him to commit five turnovers.
“I had a chance to study him for about three days before the game,” Dewey III said. “So I really knew his tendencies and what he likes to do. I just tried to prevent him from doing those things.”
With the win, the Bearkats extend their win streak to seven games and move to 16-6 overall, with a 7-2 SLC record. SHSU now sits at a first place tie atop the conference standings with the New Orleans Privateers.
The Bearkats will have a quick turnaround, as they will host the Stephen F. Austin State Lumberjacks on Feb. 2.
The game will conclude a four game home stand and is set to tipoff at 8 p.m. at Johnson Coliseum.