Courtesy: Southland Conference
KATY – Keith Charleston scored five of his 15 points during a 13-2 run late in the second half that gave No. 1 Southeastern Louisiana an 89-79 win over No. 4 Sam Houston State Friday evening at the Merrell Center, moving the Lions into Saturday night’s championship game.
Southeastern Louisiana (22-10) will play the winner of Friday’s late game between second seeded Nicholls and third seed Stephen F. Austin at 8 p.m. CT on Saturday on ESPN2.
“I just let it come to me,” said Charleston, whose three-pointer with 1:33 remaining gave the Lions a 79-71 lead. “Marlain (Veal) is a good player, drew two people to him, he found me and I knocked it down.”
Veal helped seal the deal for Southeastern by connecting on all four of his free throws in the final 47 seconds, finishing the night with a game-high 29 points that was highlighted by his perfect 14-for-14 from the free throw line, becoming only the fourth player in Southland Conference Tournament history -- and first since 2004 -- to achieve perfection from the stripe with at least 12 attempts.
Six of his free throws came at the 7:00 mark of the second half when a pair of technical fouls against Sam Houston State (19-14) following a foul that originally sent him to the line turned what was a 63-62 lead for the Bearkats into a 68-63 lead the Lions would not relinquish.
“At that point in time, even though we had a one-point lead, we were having a hard time stopping them,” said Sam Houston State coach Jason Hooten. “Did the tide change? I think the tide had already been changing.”
The Bearkats were unable to duplicate the shooting touch they had in Thursday’s win over New Orleans, shooting just 44.8 percent from the field. Josh Delaney, who hit seven three-pointers on Thursday, was only 2-for-8 from beyond the arc, finishing with 13 points. All-conference first teamer Christopher Galbreath Jr. finished with 11 points, yet was 4-for-11 from the field and fell into foul trouble that limited him to only 24 minutes.
Still, Sam Houston overcame a 26-10 first half deficit behind a bench that delivered 34 points. Jamal Williams had 13 points and five rebounds while Cameron Delaney went 3-for-4 from three-point range and finished with 11 points. Abrian Edwards added eight points and four boards in 18 minutes.
The Bearkats took a 42-41 lead on a dunk from Galbreath with 16:22 remaining and held a 52-48 advantage at the 12:44 mark. The teams traded the lead before Veal’s half-dozen free throws allowed the Lions to begin pulling away. Sam Houston State closed to 70-69 on Cameron Delaney’s trey with 5:14 left yet it would be as close as the Bearkats could get.
“I’m proud of our guys,” said Southeastern Louisiana coach Jay Ladner. “I thought we showed some composure because we got into some early foul trouble with some of our key players.”
Saturday night presents an opportunity for the Lions, who could reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since then-coach (and current Texas A&M coach) Billy Kennedy led Southeastern to the Southland Tournament title in 2005.
“Whoever the opponent is tomorrow night, we’re going to have our hands full. It’s a quick turnaround, but we’re excited about playing for the championship.”