At 2:11 am on Wednesday morning, the North Texas student bus arrived in Denton after the Mean Green's 74-70 loss to Western Kentucky in the Sun Belt title game in Hot Springs, Arkansas. After giving one of my fellow students a ride back to his apartment, I was able to go to bed just after 3. I had planned for the last couple weeks to be in Katy, Texas for the tipoff of the first quarterfinal of the Southland tournament just nine hours later, but I knew that might be infeasible after Tuesday night. So, while tipoff was probably out of the question, I made it a goal to get there for the second half.
After waking up at 7, packing and stopping for ample amounts of caffeine, I was on the road by 8:30. I knew it would be a tough task to get to the Merrell Center in time to watch the second half, but it could be done.
The traffic in Downtown Dallas was unusually free-flowing for a Wednesday at 9am, and I was able to get on Interstate 45 no more than 45 minutes after I had departed. On I-45 in south Dallas, the traffic was just even more expedient and I settled into a slightly illegal 75-80 mph groove. About 90 minutes outside of Dallas, I saw perhaps the most glorious indicator of highway regulations ever, a sign reading, "SPEED LIMIT 75". At that point, I settled into an 80-85 mph zone. I decided to make a stop at Buc-ee's, a massive temple of beef jerky, cheese, sandwiches, snacks and various souvenirs about 90 minutes from Houston.
Despite making excellent time on I-45, there was more congestion when I got into the northern parts of the Houston metro area. I also didn't count on being on the Sam Houston Tollway or I-10 for as long as I was. Still, I was able to pull up to the Merrell Center in the dying moments of halftime with the score 29-22 in favor of Stephen F. Austin.
I didn't realize it until later that night, but the seventh-seeded Bearkats were very competitive with the favored Lumberjacks for the first 16 minutes of the game, leading 20-19 at the under four-minute media timeout before a 10-2 run for Stephen F. Austin to close out the half.
Stephen F. Austin's identity is an extremely slow tempo team that plays great defense and has efficient-enough offense. While the defense was excellent and the pace very deliberate in the second half, its offense looked to be well above the 0.99 points per possession it averaged in Southland play for the year.
Nonetheless, SHSU was able to stay close for a while, and a personal 5-0 run from Marcus James cut the Lumberjacks' lead to four, at 38-34, with 14:30 left. SFA immediately responded with a 13-1 run over the next five minutes. Point guard Darius Gardner was the star in the game-defining spurt, scoring 10 of the 13 and knocking down two shots from #superhoop land. The Bearkats never threatened for the rest of the game and fell by 22, 68-46.
By the time the game ended, I realized that I had been in a vehicle of some sort for about 16 of the previous 24 hours. Even though it wasn't the best of games, I was happy to be in one spot with a full day of basketball ahead of me.
STEPHEN F. AUSTIN 68, SAM HOUSTON STATE 46 03/07/2012
SAM HOUSTON STATE 13-19 (7-9) -- D. Gatson 1-8 0-0 2; D. Gatlin 2-5 2-4 6; M. James 3-6 0-0 7; K. Tucker 4-12 0-0 11; A. Harwell 1-3 0-1 2; A. Bootle 3-4 0-0 6; S. Werner 4-5 0-0 8; M. McKinney 1-4 0-0 3; M. Holyfield 0-0 1-2 1; A. Thompson 0-0 0-0 0; W. Fritz 0-0 0-0 0; C. Sadler 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-47 3-7 46. STEPHEN F. AUSTIN 20-11 (12-4) -- A. Bostic 4-9 5-6 13; D. Haymon 2-4 2-3 7; J. King 4-4 5-6 13; D. Gardner 4-7 2-2 13; T. Smith 3-4 3-5 9; J. Scott 1-2 7-8 9; J. Bright 0-2 0-0 0; H. Bateman 2-4 0-0 4; J. Parker 0-0 0-0 0; M. Delph 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-36 24-30 68.
Three-point goals: SAMH 5-16 (K. Tucker 3-7; M. James 1-1; A. Harwell 0-1; D. Gatson 0-3; M. McKinney 1-3; D. Gatlin 0-1), SFA 4-8 (A. Bostic 0-1; D. Gardner 3-3; D. Haymon 1-3; J. Bright 0-1); Rebounds: SAMH 20 (A. Bootle 5), SFA 29 (T. Smith 7); Assists: SAMH 11 (D. Gatlin 4), SFA 14 (A. Bostic 4); Total Fouls -- SAMH 23, SFA 13; Fouled Out: SAMH-None; SFA-None.