Huntsville -- Two free throws by Brittney Matthew with six seconds remaining proved the difference as Stephen F. Austin handed Sam Houston State its first home women's basketball loss of the 2012 season 69-67 Wednesday night.
Stephen F. Austin (13-5, 3-2) was led by Ashlee Mills with 19 points and Tammara Marion with 17. Sam Houston (9-8, 4-2) was paced by Britni Martin with a season best 30 points.
The contest was a wild affair filled with twists and turns.
"There were a lot of things that we could've done better during the game, obviously not to get into a hole and have to build out of it," Kats junior forward Britni Martin said. "Coming down to the last second, it was exciting. We couldn't quite pull it off."
After the Jacks jumped ahead 67-60 following a pair of successful free throws by senior Tammara Marion with 16 seconds to go, the Bearkats needed a near-miracle to at least draw even. And Martin nearly delivered.
Dribbling up the floor, Martin weaved through traffic before drilling a 3-pointer from the right elbow.
Following a turnover on an inbounds pass, as guard Ashley Bettis stepped over the end line, Martin swished another trey and suddenly the Kats were back in business, trailing by a point with 10 seconds to play.
Then, Lumberjacks freshman guard Brittney Matthew calmly made both of her free-throw attempts to extend SFA's lead back to three at 69-66 with six seconds left.
Martin brought the ball up the floor, but was fouled before she could try her hand at another shot from long range. After making the first of her free throws, Martin intentionally missed the second so that the Kats would have a chance for a putback that would tie the game.
Sam Houston couldn't come up with the rebound, though. The ball bounced off a Lumberjack and after a lengthy video review, the Kats had possession with 0.3 seconds to go.
Senior Devin Wombles tried to pass the ball in, but the ball was deflected and the game ended.
"Those are the things you practice every day, those little quick-hitters that you can get down the court," Sam Houston head coach Brenda Nichols said of Martin's crucial 3-pointers. "Definitely (Martin) did her job. We just needed that last one to fall. It just wasn't our night."
Heading into the final 10 minutes of the game, the Bearkats looked to have the game in firm grasp as they had taken the lead and were able to hold off SFA up to that point.
"Until the game's over, I know there's way too much time on the clock," Martin said. "Once Jas (Johnson) fouled out (with 4:24 to go) with Chanice (Smith) being hurt and not playing, it was kind of trickling down to it being a tight game. The momentum started to change."
From the 7:43 mark when Sam Houston led 56-51, to the moment just before Martin's clutch 3s in the waning seconds, the Kats went through a dry spell, scoring just four points.
"We just weren't hitting," Martin said. "We missed bunnies early in the game. We just weren't hitting shots when we needed to hit them. It couldn't have come at a worse time."
In that same time frame, SFA rallied and retook the lead 60-59 on a layup by sophomore forward Sha Turner with a little less than two minutes to play.
"When you're playing from behind, you're playing with a different type of intensity and you're really playing overtime, really, because you're playing catch-up," Nichols said. "It's just tough."
Coming out of the break, the Bearkats trailed 39-30 after surrendering 12 turnovers and giving up 13 second-chance points.
The Kats knew they had to hit the boards in the second half to draw back even and make a game of it. Off the bat, SHSU responded with 12 unanswered points to open the second.
"It was definitely the rebounds," Martin said of the Bearkats' quick start in the second half. "(Coach Nichols) went into the locker room preaching rebounding and that it was killing us."
Johnson converted a layup after being fed a sharp no-look pass from senior guard Khamra Echols, who gave the Kats a spark off the bench with seven points and four assists, to pull Sam Houston to within 39-38.
A few seconds later, Johnson laid the ball off a fast break to give the Bearkats its first lead since the game's opening minute.
Sam Houston, which still holds a half-game lead in the Southland Conference's West Division over Stephen F. Austin, UTSA and Texas State, has a quick turnaround as the Kats host the Roadrunners on Saturday afternoon.
"To lose by two, this hurts," Nichols said. "We've got to regroup. We've got UTSA coming in on Saturday."
Tickets for Saturday's matchup with UTSA are available now online at www.gobearkats.com/tickets or at the SHSU athletic ticket office located in the Ron Mafrige Field House at Bowers Stadium. The ticket office telephone is (936) 294-1729. The office is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.