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Southland Notebook

March 1, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments



Southland Conference Notebook

by Scott Allen

Conference crown up for grabs

With one week remaining in the conference schedule, the battle for the Southland regular season title has come down to two teams. Sam Houston State (19-6, 15-3) maintains a slim one game lead in the win column over Stephen F. Austin (18-6, 14-3), as the Bearkats travel to Northwestern State today before returning home to close out their regular season against McNeese State on Wednesday. The Lumberjacks, in search of their first-ever conference title, have three games remaining, including today’s tilt at Southwest Texas and home games against Louisiana-Monroe and Northwestern State later this week. Both schools have already secured first-round byes and a semi-final home game in the Southland Conference tournament, which will be held March 10-14. Only the top-six finishers in the conference will compete, with the third- and fourth-place teams earning first-round home games.

Home cookin’

Home court advantage has been more like home court guarantee for Sam Houston State and Stephen F. Austin this season. The Bearkats are 9-0 and the Lumberjacks 8-0 in the friendly confines of their respective Johnson Coliseums in conference play, and have combined to go 24-1 at home overall. In all SLC games, the home team owns a 58-38 (.610) record.

Bearkats streak stopped

Sam Houston State’s 10-game in conference winning streak came to a shocking end Thursday night in a 78-71 overtime-loss at Louisiana Monroe. The Indians got 18 points apiece from junior center Chavis Johnson and junior forward Kirby Lemons and overcame a dismal 34 percent shooting night including 2-18 from beyond the arc by forcing 24 turnovers.

For a span of 10 games, the ‘K’ in Sam Houston State’s unusually spelled nickname may as well have signified KO. After earning a season-split with second-place Stephen F. Austin with a 69-62 win over the Lumberjacks last Saturday, the seemingly invincible Bearkats looked to have the regular season title wrapped up. But the Indians exposed at least one way to detain head coach Bob Marlin’s squad, by keying on senior point guard Robert Shannon. The Indians forced the Baton Rouge native, who entered the game with a conference-best 6 assists per game and a ridiculous 4.11 assist to turnover ratio, into a season-high four turnovers. Shannon is a large part of the success of senior forward Donald Cole, who is averaging 16.9 points and 8.2 rebounds per game.

Growing pains

Northwestern State freshman Tyronn Mitchell was named the Southland Conference Player of the Week. Mitchell, who leads the SLC with 2.71 steals per game, scored a career high 16 points to lead the Demons to a season sweep of Nicholls State and followed that performance with numbers that approached a quadruple-double: 9 points, 7 assists, 7 steals and 6 rebounds against Louisiana Monroe. Much like his team, Mitchell has struggled with consistency, shooting just 3-for-10 from the field in the Demons’ next game, a 62-47 loss at home to Lamar on Thursday. Northwestern State (6-18, 6-11) scored just 12 points in the first half. It’s fitting that Mitchell became the first underclassman to garner the award this season, as the Demons are the youngest team in Division I. Two years removed from a 71-67 victory over Big South champion Winthrop in the first ever NCAA tournament play-in game, head coach Mike McConathy’s roster consists of 12 freshmen, two sophomores, one junior and one senior.

Middle of the pack

With Sam Houston State and Stephen F. Austin having already secured first-round byes in the six-team conference tournament, five teams are in the mix for the final four spots. At most one game separates Texas-Arlington (13-12, 10-7), Lamar (13-12, 10-8), Southwest Texas (14-10, 9-8), McNeese State (13-11, 9-8) and Louisiana-Monroe (11-13, 9-8) heading into the final week. Southwest Texas has a tall order to get back on the winning track tonight, as it hosts Stephen F. Austin. The Bobcats, in the race for the conference title a week ago, have dropped four straight, including a 52-47 home defeat to Texas-Arlington on Thursday. Texas-Arlington is holding opponents to a conference low 61.9 points per game and the schedule for the remainder of the season would seem to favor the Mavericks, as all three of their remaining games are against teams with sub-.500 conference records, including a pair of home games against Northwestern State and Nicholls State to close the season.

A streak they’d like to end

With Thursday’s 71-50 drubbing at the hands of McNeese State, Nicholls State’s losing streak reached 12 games. Things don’t get any easier for the Colonels (3-23 overall), as their final two games of the year are both on the road where they have won just once this season. Head coach Ricky Blanton’s squad is averaging a conference worst 53.4 points per game and last week’s suspensions of senior Earnest Porter and junior Anthony Wilcher due to violation of team policy doesn’t help matters. Porter was the Colonels’ leading scorer, averaging 11.3 points per game. Senior Clifton Jones, who started in place of Porter, has since been suspended from the team as well.

Playing spoiler

In addition to the Colonels, Texas-San Antonio (8-16, 5-12), Northwestern State and Southeastern Lousiana (9-15, 7-10) are resolved to the role of spoiler. After being picked to finish 4th in the preseason SLC polls, Texas-San Antonio’s demise means the conference tournament will not include one of the conference’s most talented players. Roadrunner junior forward Leroy Hurd continues to lead the SLC in scoring with 17.2 points per game and is fifth in rebounding, pulling down 7.7 boards per game.

     

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