HUNTSVILLE – The Sam Houston State Bearkats used everything they had to win in dramatic fashion, avenging one of their few conference losses by defeating Lamar 71-69 Saturday Night at Johnson Coliseum to stretch their home winning streak to seven straight.
Sam Houston (16-10, 10-3 SLC) put three players in double figures on the game and needed every bit of it to overcome a terrific game by Lamar’s (15-11, 7-6 SLC) duo of Josh Nzeakor and Nick Garth who combined for 40 points. But it was two free throws by Josh Delaney with just 2.1 seconds on the clock that proved to be the winning margin.
The first half was back-and-forth between the two squads evidenced by the six first-half lead changes, and the second half was no different as neither team led by more than five throughout the entire game.
Christopher Galbreath Jr. was the leading scorer for the Kats with 16 points, including four in the final minute, while Jamal Williams was a rebound shy of a double-double with 13 points and Abrian Edwards added 10 points. No points were bigger than Delaney’s final two as he hit two clutch go-ahead freethrows to seal the 10th conference win of the season, the same amount of wins the Kats had in the 2016-17 season.
Josh Nzeakor had a stellar outing for the Cardinals as he poured in 23 points on 9-11 shooting, while nick Garth was the only other Cardinal in double digits with 17 points.
Sam Houston will look to take control of Southland Conference as they face top-seeded Nicholls in Thibodaux, La., on February 14 with the game being televised on Eleven Sports and SLC Digital Network.
HOW IT HAPPENED IN THE FIRST HALF
The Bearkats defense came out of the gates strong, not allowing a single Lamar field goal until five minutes into the opening half, but an uncharacteristic quick four turnovers for the Kats allowed them to only have a 6-5 advantage. Lamar got on a roll after their first field goal, going on a 7-2 run to capture a 12-8 lead with 11:10 remaining in the opening half.
The Kats and Cardinals would continue to trade baskets throughout the next four minutes with Lamar forcing three more Bearkat turnovers before a Jamal Williams and-one up-and-under layup brought the Kats to within two with seven minutes remaining. The Kats tied the game at 22 with 6:25 after a Galbreath layup, and after four lead changes and four more ties, the teams entered the halftime break deadlocked at 32 after the Kats held the Cardinals without a field goal in the final 2:30 of the half..
Williams was a force for the Bearkat offense, leading the way in the first half with nine points and five rebounds coming off the bench. The Kats outshot the Cardinals 46 percent to 38 percent, but committed four more turnovers which led to nine Cardinal points.
HOW IT HAPPENED IN THE SECOND HALF
The second half began much like the first, with both teams trading buckets including a pair of tough contact layups by Harris and Abrian Edwards, but neither team could gain the advantage until Harris completed a tough three-point play with 16:27 left to give the Kats a 41-38 lead.
But the Cardinals would not go away quietly bringing it back to a one-point game with 14:57 to go after James Harrison canned a triple from straight on. Both teams continued to trade blows throughout the quarter, Sam Houston eventually regained the lead with 9:51 on the clock after Williams converted on the tough layup.
Both teams continued to show why they were some of the premier Southland Conference teams this year as they continued to respond to each made basket while neither team led by more than five points throughout the first 33 minutes.
The Kats started to put it together as they went on a quick 4-0 run to capture a 62-57 lead with 6:38 remaining after the Cardinals committed two straight offensive fouls, but the Cardinals quickly responded with a Nzeakor three-point play, but neither team would go on to score until Josh Boutte knocked down two big-time free throws to push the Kats lead to 64-60 with 3:57 remaining.
Zjori Bosha’s second triple of the game was a big one as it gave the Cardinals their first lead since 10:32 at 65-64 with 2:05 to go in the contest. Harris quickly tied it on the other end with a free throw, but the Caridinals answered right back off a Nzeakor layup to push them up 67-65 with under 90 seconds to go.
Down four with 47 seconds to go, Galbreath went to work for the Kats, scoring a layup off a Dewey assist to bring the Kats to within two. On the ensuing Cardinal inbound John Dewey came up with a huge steal tapping the ball to Galbreath who tied the game at 69 with 41 seconds to go.
On the Cardinals next possession the Bearkat defense locked in, forcing an errant Cardinal pass before the Kats took the lead on go-ahead free throws after Delaney drew the foul on the third Bearkat game-winner attempt.