KATY - Sam Houston State is beginning to look like the team some pundits thought would win the the Southland Conference regular season title. It also has a look that has assured them of at least one more game.
A 12-0 run early in the second half allowed the Bearkats to withstand a furious rally as they eliminated fourth-seed Houston Baptist, 63-59, in a quarterfinal round matchup at Merrell Center on Thursday evening. The Bearkats (21-12) advance to play top-seed New Orleans at 5:00 PM Central on Friday. The game will be televised on ESPN3. The winners will play in the Men’s Tournament championship game on Saturday night for a berth into the NCAA Tournament.
“Like I said (Wednesday night), we’re just pretty blessed to be here,” said Sam Houston State coach Jason Hooten. “I told the guys at the beginning of the tournament not to take it for granted. Right now, we’re just trying to make the most of it.”
The Bearkats made the most of Jamal Williams’ game-altering steal with 56 seconds remaining. Clinging to a 56-54 lead, Williams picked the pocket of HBU's Asa Cantwell near midcourt, and made one of two free throws and added a rebound on HBU’s ensuing possession. That set the stage for all-conference third team guard John Dewey III to knock home a pair of free throws to give Sam Houston State a 59-54 cushion with 17 seconds left.
“He’s a high-character guy,” Hooten said of Williams. “I have confidence in him because I know he’ll do something good.”
Dewey hit all 6-for-6 from the free-throw line in the final 26 seconds that helped the Bearkats brush off a Cantwell three-pointer with four seconds left.
“They came out with a lot of fire,” said HBU coach Ron Cottrell. “It took us until midway in the first half to get up to speed. They did a really good job of taking us out of what we wanted to do.”
Sam Houston State held HBU to just 39 percent shooting, limiting all-conference second team forward Colter Lasher to just seven points on 3-of-12 shooting. Fellow second team all-conference forward Josh Ibarra had 16 points and nine rebounds, yet was limited to one second half basket.
In much the same fashion as they did in Wednesday’s opening round win over Central Arkansas, Sam Houston State jumped out to an early lead as Chris Galbreath Jr. scored eight of his team-high 15 points early to spur the Bearkats to a 12-3 advantage at the 13:48 mark. A strong defensive effort also helped the cause of Sam Houston State, who held Houston Baptist to just a pair of field goals in the first seven minutes of play.
Unphased by the opening spurt, HBU worked their way back into the contest behind the play of all-conference second teamer Reveal Chukwujekwu, who scored six of the Huskies’ seven points in a run that pushed them within 20-17 with 4:54 left in the first half. The Bearkats responded with triples from Josh Delaney and Dakarai Henderson to help extend the margin to 28-21 in the closing moments before the half, but Ibarra scored the Huskies’ last five points before intermission, including a basket before the horn sounded to leave HBU down just 28-26 at the half.
The Huskies gained their first tie since 2-2 on a driving layup from Braxton Bonds to make it 30-30 early in the second half, yet the deadlock was brief as Henderson followed up a layup with a 3-pointer on the Bearkats’ ensuing possession before adding another basket moments later to give Sam Houston State a 37-30 cushion.
After a three-point play from Galbreath, Henderson capped off the 12-0 run with a layup that swelled the Bearkats’ lead to 42-30 with 14:07 left in regulation.
“It’s good feeling,” said Henderson, who added 12 points and six rebounds while continuing to show signs of shaking out of a slump that hampered him much of February.
Galbreath pulled down 10 rebounds as Sam Houston State edged the a physical HBU squad in boards 37-36. The Bearkats were able to use their 12 offensive rebounds to add 13 second chance points.