Southland Conference basketball insider
BY JIMMIE TRAMEL World Sports Writer
Thursday, February 07, 2013
2/07/13 at 6:36 AM
Stephen F. Austin: The nation's top defensive team was as good as advertised last week, holding McNeese State to 4-of-26 first-half shooting and rallying past Lamar by holding the Cardinals scoreless for a 10-minute stretch.
Northwestern State: The Demons - who lead the nation in scoring and rank 10th nationally in steals - bounced back nicely from a Jan. 17 homecourt loss to Nicholls State. They are 4-0 since with 37 steals in the past three games.
Lamar: Pat Knight's team won the Southland Conference Tournament and made an NCAA Tournament trip last season. Lamar is in rebuilding mode and is 0-10 in league play this season. But there have been signs of life: The Cardinals led Stephen F. Austin by as many as nine points in a Saturday defeat. "As bad as this year has been, we're going to look back on it and it's going to end up being a good year for us when we get this thing rolling again," Knight said afterward.
News and notes
At-large contender?: Stephen F. Austin is the Southland Conference's best candidate for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Lumberjacks are 18-2 and they own the best RPI (82) of any team in the league.
Stephen F. Austin needed a BracketBusters opponent that would have created an RPI-boosting opportunity. The Lumberjacks will play at Long Beach State, which has an RPI of 108.
Does Stephen F. Austin have any chance of winning enough games the rest of the season to merit an at-large invitation?
"I think it's very unlikely," bracketologist Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com said. "If they need an at-large bid, it means taking another bad loss in the conference tournament."
Honored, benched: Central Arkansas' Jarvis Garner was named the Southland's player of the week one week ago. In the aftermath, it was announced that he was being suspended for two games.
The Bears salvaged a split without their leading scorer. Senior guard Robert Crawford (a Victory Christian alum) averaged 18 points during Garner's absence.
No holds barred: In the midst of a winless league season, Lamar coach Pat Knight remains the Southland's best quote. He took freshman guard Keilan Blanks out of a game last week with 12:30 remaining and the player never returned.
"I got tired of looking at him," Knight told the Beaumont (Texas) Enterprise. "I told him to go to the locker room."
Player of the week: Fred Hunter, Nicholls State. Oral Roberts coach Scott Sutton was aggravated by lack of defense after watching his team give up 33 points last week to Hunter, an undersized post player.
Hunter was just getting started. In his next game, he matched a career-high by scoring 36 points at Central Arkansas. The senior averaged 34.5 points and nine rebounds en route to Southland player of the week honors, shooting 22-of-32 from the field and scoring 30 or more in back-to-back games for the first time in his career.
ORU's nominee for player of the week was senior guard Warren Niles.
1. Stephen F. Austin: Consistent? Starting lineup has been the same in every game.
2. Oral Roberts: Foul Golden Eagles at your own risk. They rank 16th nationally in free-throw percentage.
3. Northwestern State: Freshman of year frontrunner Jalan West dished a career-best nine assists in his most recent game.
4. Southeastern Louisiana: SportsCenter's No. 9 play of the day last Thursday was Roosevelt Johnson's game-winning basket vs. Central Arkansas.
5. Nicholls State: Fred Hunter is majoring in human performance - on and off the court.
6. Sam Houston State: Bearkats will gain at least a share of fourth place if they handle McNeese State and Lamar at home.
7. Central Arkansas: Bears have won four of past five games, and their only loss in that span came on a last-second shot.
8. McNeese State: Cowboys were swept by Northwestern State for first time since 2006.
9. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi: Sophomore guard Johnathan Jordan produced 17 points and 11 rebounds Saturday for his second consecutive double-double.
10. Lamar: Can Cardinals get first league win Thursday at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi?
Game of the week: ORU at Stephen F. Austin, 6 p.m. Saturday
The Golden Eagles and Lumberjacks share first place in the Southland Conference standings.
This game could be for sole possession of the driver's seat, but in order for that to be at stake, ORU will first have to clear a Thursday hurdle at Northwestern State. Stephen F. Austin gets an easier tune-up with a Thursday home date against Central Arkansas.
Nicholls State's Fred Hunter (right), playing against ORU's Damen Bell-Holter last week, was named Southland Conference player of the week. CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World