SFA men's basketball makes NCAA Tournament; faces Texas Tech in Dallas Thursday
NACOGDOCHES, Texas - The Stephen F. Austin men's basketball team drew a number-14 seed in the east region of the 2018 NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament and will play third-seeded and No. 14-ranked Texas Tech at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas, on Thursday, March 15 at 6:27 p.m.
The game will be televised nationally on truTV with Spero Dedes, Steve Smith and Len Elmore serving as the broadcast team.
Tickets for SFA's opening round game of the NCAA Tournament can be purchased by visiting the NCAA Ticket Exchange site. A link to that site is available below.
KATY, Texas - Early Monday morning during his weekly press conference - just two days before his team was scheduled to depart for the Merrell Center in Katy, Texas which has served as the starting point of each of the Stephen F. Austin men's basketball team's NCAA Tournament runs - head men's basketball coach Kyle Keller referenced those spectacular teams before making the following statement:
"No disrespect to what everyone before us did, but we have been living in the shadow of a group of guys who did great things for this university. It's time to start creating our own legacy."
Flash forward to five days later - the time approximately 9:30 p.m. Saturday night inside the Merrell Center - and the 'Jacks were battling for yet another Southland Conference Tournament title, trying valiantly to recover from a massive run by top-seeded Southeastern Louisiana that put the 'Jacks at a six-point disadvantage with 5:45 to go.
It was then that Keller's statement earlier in the week was transformed from just a simple phrase into actions that SFA faithful for years to come will remember as a result of the play of individuals who took the first step toward creating a legacy that was all their own while being aided by some of the more familiar faces of the team's NCAA Tournament runs of years past.
Stunned after top-seeded and Southland Conference regular season co-champion Southeastern Louisiana turned the tables on the 'Jacks with a 22-2 run to take a six-point lead with 5:45 to go, SFA banded together and moved back in front for good on sophomore Kevon Harris' three-point make with with 3:21 left which was one of six field goals SFA hit in their 16-6 run to close the game. As a result, the 'Jacks gutted out a wild 59-55 victory over Southeastern Louisiana, busting open the proverbial closet to dust off the dancing shoes for the first time since 2016 as the Southland Conference's representative in the NCAA Tournament.
Southeastern Louisiana may have had Marlain Veal - the Southland's Defensive Player of the Year and an All-Southland Conference First Team pick - but the 'Jacks had the ultimate hard-rockin' cat of the tournament in the form of junior TJ Holyfield. The junior forward closed out his Southland Conference Tournament MVP showing by putting the 'Jacks on his back and posting a monstrous 13-point, 13-rebound double-double. It was his second double-double in as many nights for a guy who was merely a role player on the 'Jacks' 2016 team that advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament after laying waste to the competition in Katy.
"It's just a thrill to win this one for our school, for our players and I'm very gracious and humble that our guys listened and worked really hard," stated an emotional Kyle Keller following SFA's fourth Southland Conference Tournament title in the last five seasons. Over the 'Jacks' three-day stay in Katy, they took out four of the five Southland Conference major awards winners including Southland Conference Player of the Year (Central Arkansas' Jordan Howard), Southland Conference Newcomer of the Year (Nicholls' Roddy Peters), Southland Conference Coach of the Year (Nicholls' Richie Riley) and Veal, the Southland Conference Newcomer of the Year.
Keller called a trio of timeouts during the Lions' big run, but instructed his team to play desperate in order to win the night.
The 'Jacks did.
"I hadn't played [John] Comeaux a lot in the second half but I called his number and he stepped up," Keller said of his sophomore reserve guard out of Beaumont, Texas, who converted a game-tying fast-break layup with 3:51 left. Holyfield, meanwhile, came up with the game's biggest offensive rebound which he tapped to Ivan Canete after the senior misfired on a free throw try with 42 seconds left. That allowed Canete to put in a layup that hiked the 'Jacks' lead to 57-53 and Ty Charlesfinished off the Lions with two makes at the foul line with 20 seconds to go in order to send the 'Jacks back to March Madness.
Near the midway point of the first half, SFA took control against the Lions who were seeking their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2005. Down 13-8, the 'Jacks embarked on a 22-6 run with the help of five players who pumped in points.
Sophomore Aaron Augustin started the spree by drilling a contested mid-range jumper as the shot clock expired and Holyfield finished it in powerful fashion, hammering down a two-handed flush with 3:01 to go in the frame that hiked the 'Jacks lead to 30-19.
The 'Jacks' lead ballooned to as many as 14 points in the second half after Harris drained a long ball with 16:03 left to make matters 41-27, but that's when things went south.
Tired of watching the 'Jacks own the upper hand, Southeastern Louisiana erased SFA's big lead with a 22-2 run that spanned over 50-percent of the second half - 10:18 to be precise - by getting a vast majority of their scoring in that run from beyond the arc. Joshua Filmore canned a trio of three-pointers while Keith Charleston added one more to push the Lions' lead to six, 49-43, with 5:45 left. Multiple defensive breakdowns and an admitted lack of aggressiveness were the 'Jacks' two biggest enemies during that surge, but SFA got those qualities back just in time to avert disaster.
Turning things up a notch or two on defense, SFA allowed just one field goal make by the Lions in the final 5:44 of the game and finished the game on a 16-6 run in order to start a raucous celebration on the floor of the Merrell Center.
Canete finished with 10 for the 'Jacks and was the only other player besides Holyfield who finished with double-digit points. Harris added nine and five rebounds for the 'Jacks who owned a 34-27 edge on the glass over the Lions. Filmore put in a game-high 14 for the Lions while Veal added 12.
Like the other 67 schools from around the nation who will have punched their tickets to the 2018 NCAA Tournament by the time Sunday evening rolls around, the 'Jacks will have to wait until 5:00 p.m. Sunday evening to learn both the site of their first round game and who they will be playing in the opening round. TBS will air a two-hours Selection Show special beginning at that time with the full bracket being unveiled in the first 15 minutes of the program.