SFA Athletics Release
NACOGDOCHES, Texas - Clinging to a 44-42 lead with 8:55 remaining in its Southland Conference opener against Houston Baptist, the lineup on the court for the Stephen F. Austin men's basketball team did not feature the likes of Dallas Cameron, Ty Charles or TJ Holyfield - all three of whom had been responsible for helping to construct the Southland Conference's longest-running men's basketball dynasty.
Despite those familiar faces sitting on the bench due to foul trouble and fatigue, the 'Jacks on the court made all the right plays in order to make sure the new-look squad passed its first Southland Conference test.
Harassing Houston Baptist on each one of its offensive possessions, the 'Jacks allowed the Huskies to put in just three field goals in the game's final 12:37, Leon Gilmore III, Kevon Harris and Isaiah Traylor each put in a basket to extend SFA's lead to eight with 6:16 to go and TJ Holyfield submitted a 14-point, 12-rebound double-double to help the 'Jacks turn back Houston Baptist 61-51 on the final day of 2016.
Traylor added 12 off the bench for SFA and Harris put in 10 and the 'Jacks held the Huskies to only 16 field goal makes - the lowest number by an SFA opponent this season - on the paltry 31.4-percent showing from the field. The team that had the second-lowest number of turnovers in the 13-team Southland Conference coming in, Houston Baptist committed 20 turnovers due to the 'Jacks' in-your-face defense.
"For the first time this season, I felt as though our guys played defense for each other and for Stephen F. Austin versus only themselves," said head coach Kyle Keller, who became the ninth SFA head coach out of the 12 in program history to win his conference debut. "We were not very smooth on offense, but I was proud of our men by chipping away at them, staying ahead and making some gritty plays for the first time in 2016-17."
Fans of a defensive brand of basketball received exactly what they paid for as SFA converted just 42.2-percent (19-for-45) of its field goal tries in a knock-down, drag-out battle of defenses. Wanting to become the first Southland Conference team since 2012 to capture a league win inside William R. Johnson Coliseum, Houston Baptist's opening statement came in the form of an 11-4 run through the game's first 6:46.
Through the next 7:56, SFA embarked on a 17-7 run and received three-pointers from Cameron, Traylor and Ivan Canete to take a 21-18 lead with 5:32 left in the half. On the way to their largest lead of the half, the 'Jacks witnessed Houston Baptist's Asa Cantwell take an early trip to the showers after the sophomore tagged Holyfield with a vicious elbow which opened up a cut above Holyfield's right eye.
Cantwell was assessed a flagrant two foul and ejected from the game and Holyfield split a pair at the free throw line before HBU's Reveal Chukwujekwu led his team back. As part of his 19-point, 14-rebound performance (both of which were game highs), the senior scored six of the Huskies' last eight points in the half to help HBU draw even with SFA at the break via a 26-26 score.
Following an 0-for-3 showing from the field in the first half, Charles rediscovered his shooting touch early in the final frame. The junior, making his first appearance in William R. Johnson Coliseum of the 2016-17 season, dove in for a layup before canning a wide-open corner three to account for every SFA point of a 5-1 run by the home team to begin the frame.
Those points ensured that the 'Jacks would never trail again, but the final four of the game's 11 deadlocks came in the second half. Braxton Bonds knocked down a pair of free throws to knot matters at 40-all with 11:35 left before an 11-3 SFA run gave the home team the breathing room it needed.
Through that surge, Gilmore III put in four - including a fast-break slam dunk to energize the crowd - and found a cutting Harris who tossed in an easy layup to put SFA up 51-43 with 6:16 to go.
A sweeping hook shot from HBU's Josh Ibarra cut SFA's lead to 53-49 with 3:26 left, but the home team outscored the Huskies 8-2 in the last 206 seconds to capture its 10th-consecutive double-digit Southland Conference win.
On the first day of 2017, the 'Jacks will travel to Lake Charles, La., for the first time since 2015 to take on McNeese in a battle between two of the six Southland Conference teams without a loss in league play. Tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m. on Monday night in Burton Coliseum.