Northwestern State (17-13) vs. Stephen F. Austin (29-2)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Friday, March 14, 6 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Leonard E. Merrell Center (5,600) -- Katy, Texas. Television: ESPN3.com. Home Record: NSU 10-3, SFA 15-0. Away Record: NSU 6-10, SFA 14-2. Neutral Record: NSU 1-0, SFA 0-0. Conference Record: NSU 12-6, SFA 18-0. Series Record: Northwestern State leads, 62-54.
GAME NOTES: In the first of the Southland Conference Tournament semifinal matchups, the top-seeded Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks do battle with the fourth-seeded Northwestern State Demons.
SFA may not be getting the same type of attention that Wichita State and Florida have, but the Lumberjacks pulled off a similar trick this season, going a perfect 18-0 in conference play. They have also been stellar outside of the league, with wins in 26 straight games overall and logging a record of 29-2. If they can win this contest and the next, it would give them their first Southland title since 2009, when they were also the top seed.
While the Lumberjacks had a bye through the first two rounds, the Demons only skipped the first. They were in action on Thursday in the quarterfinals when they easily got past Nicholls, 88-72. The win was their fourth straight overall and pushed them to 17-13 on the year.
Stephen F. Austin swept the season series with Northwestern State. However, the Demons nearly upset the Lumberjacks on Feb. 22, falling 70-68, and they lead the all-time series, 62-54. The winner of this one advances to the Southland title tilt against either Texas A&M-Corpus Christi or Sam Houston State
DeQuan Hicks posted a double-double consisting of 21 points and 10 rebounds for Northwestern State, leading five players in double figures in the win over Nicholls. The Demons secured 19 offensive rebounds and scored as many second- chance points in the win.
There is no denying that Northwestern State can put points on the board. The Demons are second in the country in scoring (86 ppg), while leading the Southland in assists (16.6 apg). They are also sinking a solid 46.5 percent from the floor. However, when it comes to defense, they fall flat, allowing a whopping 84.8 ppg on 46 percent shooting. Jalan West (18.7 ppg) headlines the impressive offensive attack, leading the way in both scoring and assists (6.6 apg). Hicks (14.9 ppg) is also a strong scorer, and Zikiteran Woodley (13.9 ppg) and Brison White (13.8 ppg) provide depth.
The Lumberjacks put a stamp on their perfect league ledger with an 85-61 rout of Central Arkansas in the regular-season finale. Thomas Walkup tallied 24 points and Desmond Haymon added 20 for the victories, who shot 47.5 percent from the floor and 21-of-27 at the charity stripe.
The defensive end of the court is where the Lumberjacks have been most effective this season. They are allowing only 62.6 ppg, despite foes shooting 45.3 percent from the floor. The key is their ability to get into passing lanes, as they are 14th in the country in assists allowed (9.8 apg). Jacob Parker (14.5 ppg) leads a group of four double-digit scorers, and he comes up with 7.1 rpg and 1.4 spg as well. Haymon (14.2 ppg) and Walkup (12.9 ppg) are also strong scorers, while Deshaunt Walker (11.9 ppg) adds spark off the bench.
Stephen F. Austin will be plenty rested for this contest and will advance rather easily.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Stephen F. Austin 77, Northwestern State 65
03/14 10:34:25 ET