Let me preface this piece by saying that I have nothing against teams that play a slow style. In fact, there have been teams I have adored that were more keen to walk the ball up the court, such as Butler from 2010 and 2011. This year, I have loved to watch a measured Denver offense that features a surgical level of precision. Back when I covered high school sports for a group of local newspapers, my favorite team to write about was the 2008 Flower Mound Jaguars, a team that played a deliberate pace and finished third in their district with seventh-place talent.
That being said, I cannot stand to watch Stephen F. Austin play basketball, because they play a most excruciating tempo. KenPom's robots say that Wisconsin and Western Illinois are the only two teams in the nation that play slower, and I'm not sure I believe that after watching SFA play three times this season.
Three examples from Thursday's Southland semifinal stand out as the biggest instances of SFA's plodding pace.
With about five minutes to go in the first half, the shot clock was running below 10, as it commonly does on SFA's possessions. However, point guard Darius "Peewee" Gardner was still casually dribbling the ball 40 feet from the basket with seven seconds left of the 35. Three quick passes meant the Lumberjacks staved off the shot clock violation, but only just.
At the 16-minute mark in the second half, example two presented itself with a most audacious display of pep band cojones.
Many times when the pep band or student section counts down a shot clock prematurely, it will count down with a five- to seven-second differential. On this occasion, the Lamar pep band began to countdown from 10 with 20 seconds left on the shot clock. When Taylor Smith shot a jumper from the free-throw line with 10 seconds left on the shot clock, thinking all 35 seconds had been burned, I burst out into laughter.
Then, with about eight minutes left, SFA had a two-on-one fast break opportunity that was awkwardly dribbled up the wing, pulled back for a second or two and then driven to the basket for a missed layup.
The thing is, that style of play has largely worked this season for the Lumberjacks. After a below-.500 non-conference season that included four wins against non-Division I teams and a disastrous trip to Oregon's multi-team event documented onthissite, SFA finished 12-4 in the Southland and wore white on Thursday as the higher seed.
The Lumberjacks did a good job of controlling the tempo early and tightening the reins on Lamar's superior athletes. With less than five minutes to go in the first half, a layup by center Jereal Scott gave SFA a 17-16 lead. In the final stages of the first half, Lamar began to force turnovers and create transition opportunities, ending the half on a 10-2 run to go up 26-19 at the break. Slow teams usually have to hold on to the ball if they want to be successful, but SFA has been spendthrift with their possessions this year, ranking eighth of 12 teams in SLC play in turnover percentage.
The margin stayed within two to three possessions for the opening minutes of the second half until missed shot after missed shot allowed the Cardinals to go on a game-defining 12-0 run across six minutes to make the score 44-26 with about seven minutes left. Mike James, who was quiet in the first half as fellow Lamar guards Anthony Miles and Devon Lamb picked up the scoring load, hit a series of jumpers to ice the game for the Cardinals. James, Miles and Lamb each made half of their shots or more for the game, a great result against a stellar SFA defense.
SFA tried to press in the last few minutes in hopes of getting back into the game, but it was to no avail. The damage was done, and the Lumberjacks had shot themselves out of the game by missing 14 consecutive shots during the 12-0 run. SFA's calculated style had won 20 games overall for 2011-12, but it was outclassed by a Lamar team that would ultimately win the Southland tournament and the automatic NCAA bid.
LAMAR 55, STEPHEN F. AUSTIN 44 03/08/2012
LAMAR 22-11 (11-5) -- D. Lamb 4-8 2-2 10; A. Miles 4-7 8-10 17; M. James 7-14 0-2 14; C. Harper 3-7 4-5 10; B. Davis 0-2 0-0 0; O. Ebomwonyi 1-2 0-0 2; S. Brown 1-2 0-0 2; V. Nelson 0-1 0-0 0; N. Acosta 0-0 0-0 0; D. Minor 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 20-45 14-19 55. STEPHEN F. AUSTIN 20-12 (12-4) -- D. Haymon 4-11 1-2 11; A. Bostic 2-7 0-0 5; J. Scott 3-10 3-4 9; T. Smith 6-11 2-4 14; H. Bateman 0-7 3-4 3; D. Gardner 0-4 0-0 0; J. King 1-2 0-0 2; J. Parker 0-1 0-0 0; J. Bright 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 16-53 9-14 44.
Three-point goals: LAM 1-5 (A. Miles 1-2; E. Davis 0-1; M. James 0-2), SFA 3-13 (A. Bostic 1-2; D. Gardner 0-2; D. Haymon 2-7; H. Bateman 0-2); Rebounds: LAM 26 (A. Miles 7), SFA 34 (J. Scott 8); Assists: LAM 7 (A. Miles 5), SFA 8 (H. Bateman 3); Total Fouls -- LAM 13, SFA 17; Fouled Out: LAM-None; SFA-None.