HUNTSVILLE – Sam Houston State recovered from an early deficit and finished strong down the stretch, thanks to strong bench play, to defeat McNeese 79-74 on Thursday at Johnson Coliseum.
Sam Houston honored its seven seniors – Dakarai Henderson, Javonte' Spivey, Phillip Jones Jr., Aurimas Majauskas, Paul Baxter, Phillip Jones Jr. and Torry Butler – prior to the game, and the unit did not disappoint in their home finale. Henderson posted a team-best 16 points including four three-pointers while Baxter added 11 points.
The Kats drained 10 three-pointers while taking advantage of 18 second-chance points to move to 19-11 overall and 10-7 in the Southland Conference. McNeese, who has already been eliminated for conference tournament contention, fell to 7-21 and 4-13 in the league.
The Bearkats victory, coupled by losses from New Orleans and Stephen F. Austin, still keeps Sam Houston in contention to finish as high as second-place in the league. Sam Houston wraps its regular-season on Saturday at the Lumberjacks. Tipoff is slated for 6 p.m. from Nacogdoches and will be aired on ESPN3.
HOW IT HAPPENED
McNeese got off to a fiery start, scoring 10 points in the first two minutes while using a 9-0 run to build an 11-point lead four minutes into the game. Dakarai Henderson drilled a 3-pointer, bring it back to seven but both squads would go cold over the next three minutes.
A Jamal Williams layup and Paul Baxter jumper brought the McNeese lead down to three and with 5:49 to play in the half, Henderson followed with a jumper of his own, cutting the lead to one. Entering the three-minute mark, Aurimas Majauskas put home back-to-back jumpers, tying the game at 35.
Albert Almanza drained a 3-pointer with 23 seconds left in the half, providing Sam Houston its first lead since going ahead 3-2 just over one minute into the game. The Cowboys shot 50 percent from the field in the first half, led by 13 from Kalob Ledoux while the Kats hit five 3-pointers including three from Henderson.
The squads went back-and-forth through the opening minutes of the second until Torry Butler drained a jumper and John Dewey III hit from downtown for a five-point advantage with 15:58 remaining. Another 3-pointer from Dewey would extend the lead to six just over one minute later.
On senior night, Paul Baxter put home a one-handed dunk with authority, pushing the Kats lead back to six with 13 minutes to go. The Cowboys trimmed the deficit back to two but Sam Houston answered by way of a back-to-back 3-pointers from Josh Delaney and Javonte Spivey.
The lead was down to one with 4:09 left but Baxter and Spivey created back-to-back layups, pushing the lead to five with 3:24 left.
PLAYERS OF THE GAME
Chris Galbreath matched a career-best 13 rebounds and added 12 points for his fifth double-double of the season. On senior night, Dakarai Henderson and Paul Baxter each finished in double-figures with 16 points and 11 respectively. Torry Butler came off the bench to add six points on 3-of-4 shooting.
Senior guard Paul Baxter on the victory…
“It felt great. We haven’t been playing the best the last part of the conference season so this was a big momentum builder. We take some momentum going into SFA. We want that bye because it makes a big difference in the conference tournament. We will keep our same approach.”
Senior guard Paul Baxter on playing together with Majauskas and Henderson…
“We’ve been playing together for a while. We have a great team and great guys behind us and our teammates always picking us up. It starts with us three. We want to set the culture for the guys coming in next year.”
Head coach Jason Hooten on the win…
“It was a hard-fought win. We knew coming in it would be a tough match. They are mathematically eliminated so they play with a lot of pride. We haven’t played our best lately but I am really happy with our composure tonight and ability to finish it off. That’s the most important thing is finding a way to win.”
Head coach Jason Hooten on the senior class…
“Last year, we ate dinner at my house like we always do before a home game. Usually, I stand up and talk about the seniors and get emotional talking about what they mean to me, this program and this university. Last night, I didn’t do it. When I woke up this morning, I figured out why and it’s because there is a lot of basketball left. There is a feeling there that there is something we still have left to accomplish and something we have to do. We’re going to have a tough road ahead but it’s out in front of us.”