Second-half surge leads 'Jacks past Florida A&M

Second-half surge leads 'Jacks past Florida A&M

From SFA Athletics

NACOGDOCHES, Texas - Perhaps suffering from a dose of post-Thanksgiving lethargy, it took until midway through the first half for the Stephen F. Austin men's basketball team to get going against Florida A&M Sunday afternoon. Once the 'Jacks finally found their offensive groove, however, the Rattlers did not stand much of a chance.

Shaking off their sluggish start and trying to avoid a second-straight loss, the 'Jacks turned an 11-point deficit with 4:49 left in the opening half into a 13-point lead with 14:29 left in the frame by going on a 31-7 run that helped SFA secure a 79-63 triumph over Florida A&M inside William R. Johnson Coliseum.

After connecting on only 39.3-percent (11-of-28) of their field goals in the opening frame, the 'Jacks converted 69.2-percent (18-of-26) of their tries during the last 20 minutes of action and made it much more of a point to get to work down on the block.

That effort was personified by junior TJ Holyfield who finished with a team-best 22 points - his second effort of 20-plus points of 2017-18. Sophomore Kevon Harris bounced back from his long single-digit scoring outing of the season by pumping in 18 on 6-of-10 shooting while Ivan Canete added 14 markers on the strength of two of the 'Jacks' four three-pointers.

"This morning I thought we had our best shoot-around of the year, but that obviously didn't translate to offense early on," commented SFA head coach Kyle Keller following the win. "We settled for jumpers, but once we made a decision to take it at them and become the aggressors that changed the game."

At a disadvantage in almost every statistical category at the break, the 'Jacks were issued a challenge by Keller while in the midst of their halftime strategy session.

"Individually I challenged some of our players to be the best versions of themselves in the second half," continued Keller. "TJ had no rebounds at halftime and he finished with seven. Aaron Augustin turned the ball over three times at halftime but bounced back and turned it over just once in the second. Putting together a complete game has to become a priority for us if we want to continue improving."

SFA held a pair of slim leads in the opening 20 minutes of action, the last of which came when a three-point play by Shannon Bogues pushed the 'Jacks' lead to 7-6 with 14:27 to go in the half. The Rattlers answered wit an 8-1 run consisting entirely of layups and free throw makes to take a 14-6 advantage - a lead they would enjoy for the rest of the half.

Following a Holyfield layup which trimmed the Rattlers' lead to 18-15 near the midway point of the half, SFA was held scoreless for nearly six minutes which allowed Florida A&M to build up its advantage. The Rattlers put in eight points in a row by getting points from three players as they searched for their first win over an NCAA Division I opponent of the season.

The Rattlers' 8-0 scoring surge occurred almost entirely at the free throw stripe and put the 'Jacks in an 11-point (26-15) hole with 4:49 to go in the frame before the home team's dormant offense stirred.

Through the final 3:55 of the half, SFA took off on a 14-4 scoring surge which was helmed by the quartet of Bogues, Canete, Holyfield and Stefon Fisher. Canete started the run with a straightaway three-pointer while a pair of three-point plays by both Holyfield and Fisher continued to shrink the Rattlers' lead.

Bogues' twisting layup in traffic with 45 ticks to go in the half cut Florida A&M's lead to just one, 30-29, at the break and after Canete drilled a pair of free throw tries that put SFA ahead 33-32 with 18:19 left, the 'Jacks never trailed again.

A fast-break score from sophomore John Comeaux pushed the hosts' edge to double-digits, 44-33, with 15:09 remaining before the Rattlers stepped out beyond the arc to make one last push for the lead.

Marcus Barham and Desmond Williams each canned a three-pointer during a 6-2 Florida A&M stretch that cut the 'Jacks' lead to single digits, 49-42, with 12:48 left. Harris wasted little time in helping SFA reestablish a double-digit edge, however, as the sophomore scored four in a row to stop the Rattler run.

It was Harris' layup with 9:07 left which made matters 60-49 SFA and ensured the hosts' lead would never again dip below single digits.

Most of the 'Jacks' damage was done inside as SFA finished with a 46-18 edge in points in the paint. Additionally, SFA received 29 points off of 24 Florida A&M turnovers to assist in the victory. Manning the point guard spot once again, Augustin put down an impressive stat line of seven points, four rebounds, six assists and five steals to help the 'Jacks stop Florida A&M.

Barham scored a game-high 26 for the Rattlers while Williams added 14.

Up next for SFA is a Tuesday night showdown with Summit League adversary North Dakota State. The second all-time meeting between the 'Jacks and Bison is set to begin at 7:30 p.m. inside William R. Johnson Coliseum.