By Cody Stark, Huntsville Item

Defense was a big focal point coming into this season, and if Saturday night was any indication, the Bearkats are going to be just fine.

Sam Houston State overcame a poor shooting performance in the first half by smothering LeTourneau with an energetic defense to roll to a 73-42 victory in the season opener at Johnson Coliseum.

The Bearkats held the Yellow Jackets to 20 percent shooting for the game, had 10 steals and eight blocks. Sam Houston also took advantage of 14 turnovers, scoring 17 points off the miscues and dominated in the paint with a bigger lineup to outscore LeTourneau 42-10 inside.

"Our defense was good the first half and it was pretty good the second half," Bearkats head coach Bob Marlin said. "I was pleased with our defense and our game plan. Offensively, we were dissappointed in the first half. We didn't run much offense.

"We were trying to do a couple of things without showing much. Some of the guys didn't respond the way I wanted them to and we got loose with the ball and forced up some shots. We have to do a better job with player movement and screening."

Sam Houston wanted to go inside Saturday night. On the Kats first possession, junior forward Gilberto Clavell easily forced his way to the basket and laid a shot of the glass for a 2-0 lead. But the Bearkats tried to turn the game into a track meet after that.

The Kats started firing up 3-point shots and couldn't get anything to fall. It was four more minutes until Sam Houston scored again when senior point guard Ashton Mitchell found junior guard Josten Crow for an easy dunk on the baseline.

The Bearkats only led 15-7 following a floater by sophomore Drae Murray and another dunk by senior Preston Brown with just under eight minutes to go in the half.

Senior Corey Allmond finally hit a pair of 3s, Murray added another and junior Trevon Charles got an old-fashioned three-point play down the stretch to push the lead to 31-20 at the break.

But Sam Houston only shot 37 percent in the first half and were just 4-of-16 (25 percent) behind the arc. The reason why the Yellow Jackets weren't closer was because the Kats held them to 17 percent shooting.

"It could have been opening game jitters, but the ball just bounced a different way in the opening half," said Allmond, who led SHSU with 15 points. "This game we wanted to work on getting the ball inside more, but we may have rushed some shots. I know I rushed a few.

"We were just worried about defense. We shot the ball terribly and still got 73 points. Our offense will be there, but if we stop people there is no telling what we are going to do this year."

The Bearkats finally broke out of the offensive slump in the second half. Once again on the first possession, Clavell, who had 11 points and five boards, knocked in another easy shot down low.

Sam Houston continued to attack the basket. Brown and Clavell each hit shots to give the Bearkats a 44-24 lead with just over 14 minutes left in the game.

Senior forward Arthur Zulu provided a spark off the bench. He scored three baskets in a span of three minutes, the last coming at the 7:19 mark off an assist by Murray to make it 59-33.

In the meantime, LeTourneau struggled against Sam Houston's pressure. The Yellow Jackets shot only 22 percent in the second half and scored 22 points, eight of which that came from Dale Vanwright, who scored a game-high 20.

"We practice defense every day and that is our main point. We are trying to improve," Clavell said. "Last year I wasn't here at Sam Houston, but they didn't defend that well. This year we practice defense every day trying to get better. Defense wins games."

Crow finished with nine points and nine boards. Murray added eight points and eight assists. Zulu and Brown both scored seven, while Mitchell had eight points and four assists.

The Bearkats return to action Monday when they host Texas College at 7 p.m.

Purchase tickets on-line now at www.gobearkats.com or by contacting the Sam Houston State athletic ticket office at the Ron Mafrige Field House at Bowers Stadium. Ticket office hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The ticket office telephone number is (936) 294-1729.