HUNTSVILLE, Tex. — With the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks not as dominant as we’ve seen in recent seasons, the Southland Conference is as wide open as ever. Several teams look like they have a shot at representing the conference in the NCAA Tournament, at least on paper.
One team who has been in contention on a consistent basis, but unable to break through due to the Lumberjacks reigning supreme in the conference, has been the Sam Houston State Bearkats. They are regularly in contention for the title, but haven’t been able to advance to the Big Dance.
They’ve made three straight appearances in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament, compiling a record of 2-3 over the last three seasons.
On Thursday, the Bearkats welcomed another conference title hopeful to town. The Lamar Cardinals have shown flashes of being able to contend for the conference crown this season, but other times have looked like they’re another year from truly being a contender.
Thursday night was a tale of two halves. After the first, the teams were separated by a single point, at 41-40. The second half was vastly different, as the Bearkats outscored the Cardinals by 21, and cruised to the 87-65 victory on their home court.
Christopher Galbreath, Jr. led the way for the Bearkats, scoring a game-high 20 points off the bench in just 15 minutes of action. He also added 8 rebounds, 2 steals, and 2 blocks for an all-round strong performance to pace the home side.
It was an unusually quiet night for Lamar’s Colton Weisbrod, as the junior finished with 6 points and 3 rebounds.
Lamar came out of the gate strong, and Zjori Bosha opened the scoring with a layup in the opening minute to draw first blood for the Cardinals. The visitors hit six of their first 12 shots on the night, racing out to an 18-11 lead with 12:12 to play in the opening half.
The Bearkats fought their way back into the game, and eventually took a lead of their own on a layup from Galbreath, Jr. with 3:01 to play in the opening period. They would maintain their lead the rest of the way, but a three from Lincoln Davis with :09 on the clock sent Lamar into the break with a shot of momentum.
Out of the gate in the second half, the Bearkats quickly took the momentum back from the Cardinals. They opened the half on a 13-0 run, stretching their lead to 54-40, and they wouldn’t look back. A three pointer from John Dewey III capped off the run, and the Bearkats kept Lamar off the scoreboard for over five minutes to open the half.
Sam Houston State would maintain a double-digit lead the rest of the way. A jumper from Dorian Chatman brought Lamar to within 12 points with 9:49 to play in the game, but that was as close as they would get.
The Bearkats stretched their lead to as many as 24 points, and they rolled to the 87-65 win over Lamar.
Forward Josh Nzeakor led the way for Lamar, recording 11 points and 10 rebounds for the double-double. He was the only Cardinal to score in double-figures. Christian Albright finished the game with 9 points, going a perfect 3-of-3 from the field.
Aurimas Majauskas and Dakarai Henderson scored 13 points apiece for the Bearkats, while John Dewey III added 14 points and 8 assists.
The star of the show was Christopher Galbreath, Jr., and his performance off the bench in limited minutes. He finished the game shooting 10-of-14 from the field, and recorded his second 20+ point game in his last three outings.
After a two-game winning streak, the Lamar Cardinals (11-8, 3-3) have now suffered consecutive defeats. They return to the hardwood on Saturday afternoon as they close out a three-game road trip with a date against the Nicholls Colonels.
On the flip side, the Sam Houston State Bearkats (14-6, 5-2) have now won five straight games in Southland action, and are just a half-game behind the New Orleans Privateers for top spot in the standings. The Bearkats will go for their sixth-straight victory on Saturday, when they welcome the Texas A&M-CC Islanders to town.
– T. Bennett