Stephen F. Austin (27-4) at Stanford (18-14)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Tuesday, March 19, 11 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Maples Pavilion (7,329) -- Stanford, California. Television: ESPN2. NIT Record: Stephen F. Austin 1-2, Stanford 12-4. Series Record: First-ever meeting.
GAMES NOTES: The defending champion Stanford Cardinal will attempt to replicate their success from a year ago when they host the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks in the first round of the 2013 Postseason NIT at Maples Pavilion.
Stephen F. Austin was one of the more impressive mid-major programs this season as it enters the postseason boasting a record of 27-4. The Lumberjacks dominated in Southland Conference play (16-2) but came up just short in the tournament championship against Northwestern State (68-66) and failed to grab the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Last year Stanford routed Minnesota, a team now in the NCAA Tournament, 75-51 to earn the NIT title. The Cardinal's championship did not propel them to a loftier finish on this campaign as they are just 18-14 as the postseason kicks off. Stanford has lost five of its last eight games including a first-round exit in the Pac-12 Tournament.
The winner of this bout will face either Alabama or Northeastern in the next round.
These teams have never met up on the hardwood prior to this matchup. Stephen F. Austin has faced seven other Pac-12 schools but has just one win to show for it. The Lumberjacks defeated Washington State 70-67 in 1988.
There was plenty of time and opportunity down the stretch for the Lumberjacks in the Southland Title game. However after going down 68-66 with 1:30 remaining they failed to convert on their final two field-goal attempts and were handed the devastating loss.
Guided by Southland Conference Coach of the Year Danny Kaspar, the Lumberjacks were a devastating defensive squad this season. The Lumberjacks had three players named to the All-Defenseive Team for the league with Taylor Smith (15.6 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 2.9 bpg) headlining the selections as the Southland Defensive Player of the Year. Antonio Bostic (10.7 ppg) and Desmond Haymon (10.6 ppg) also made the cut. Led by that trio the Lumberjacks decimated opposing squads ranking at the top of the country in scoring defense (51 pg), while in the top 10 in field-goal percentage defense (.380).
Stanford's early exit from the Pac-12 Tournament was certainly a dramatic one as it was handed an 89-88 loss in overtime by Arizona State. The Cardinal trailed by eight with just over a minute left in regulation but nailed three 3-pointers from there to even the score at 79-79 and force overtime. After scoring the initial basket in the extra session the Cardinal were outscored 9-2 over the next four minutes and just didn't have enough time to rally.
Aaron Bright (9.4 ppg) played one of his best games of the season against Arizona State as he nailed six 3-pointers and finished with a team-high 27 points. The 5-foot-11 guard shot better than 40 percent from 3-point range a year ago but dropped to 31.3 percent this season, while scoring 2.3 points per game fewer. The focus for the Cardinal is on the interior led by talented forwards Dwight Powell (15.4 ppg, 8.2 rpg) and Josh Huestis (10.7 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 2.1 bpg). The two combined to score 40 points, collect 18 rebounds and block eight shots against Arizona State. Chasson Randle (14.0 ppg) is another reliable scorer in the backcourt.
A look at Stephen F. Austin's resume shows that it was not afraid against teams from power conferences as it tallied a win on the road against Oklahoma, a team in the NCAA Tournament field. Still Stanford has the size inside to contend with the Lumberjacks and playing at home certainly helps as well.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Stanford 66, Stephen F. Austin 64
03/19 10:40:10 ET