The Wildcats (11-4) lost their second-straight conference game in heartbreaking fashion in Teague on Saturday night versus the Sam Houston State Bearkats (8-9), 65-63.
Junior forward Airion Simmons hit a three to tie the game at 63 with 16.68 seconds to play, but Bearkats guard Jaden Ray hit a layup with .2 seconds left to seal a Quad Two win for the Bearkats.
“They deserved to win,” head coach Brette Tanner said. “It’s funny how that happens and how it works.”
Last season the Wildcats defeated the Bearkats in a grudge match at Teague 86-72, earning sole possession of first place in Southland Conference play. Former Wildcat forward Joe Pleasant scored a career high 24 and former Bearkat guard Zach Nutall scored 33. Pleasant now plays for Wichita State while Nutall now plays for SMU.
However, this year the Wildcats were unable to bounce back after Thursday’s loss to Stephen F. Austin at Teague. The Wildcats have now lost their first two games ever at Teague. Neither SFA or SHSU defeated the Wildcats at Teague last season and have now handed the Wildcats their first two losses at the temporary home of the Wildcats, all while holding a facility record of 1,098 fans.
“Every game we play these guys is like this,” Tanner said. “When we’re here our fans expect to see us win games and that’s what we’re charged to do. We have to do our job and we haven’t done our job the last two games.”
Prior to Saturday’s matchup, the Wildcats ranked 90th in the NET rankings and 88th in RPI, down from 59th and 54th before the loss to SFA. Coming into Saturday, Sam Houston ranked 270th in NET rankings and 313th in RPI.
“There’s one, two, or three possession games all across the country in conference play,” Tanner said. “Nobody shuts down in conference play. We’ve got to find a way to be tougher. That’s the bottom line.”
The Bearkats took a 36-29 lead at halftime after Texas A&M graduate transfer guard and forward Savion Flagg went off for 19 points on 7-9 shooting and 5-5 from three. Flagg led the Bearkats on a 13-2 run early in the first half as the Bearkats shot 7-7 in their run. The Bearkats outrebounded the Wildcats 20-11 and shot 53 percent from the three point line on 8-15 shooting at the end of the first half. Wildcats senior guards Coryon Mason and Reggie Miller, and junior forward Airion Simmons combined for 24 of the Wildcats 29 first half points.
“Flagg’s a heck of a player,” Tanner said. “He went nuts and he hit some shots. The problem is that we can’t give him two offensive rebounds in the first possession of the game. Now he starts having some confidence right off the bat.”
Wildcats senior guard Coryon Mason and junior forward Airion Simmons combined for 41 of the Wildcats 63. Mason scored 19 on 6-10 shooting and 4-4 from the 3-point line, a career high. Simmons scored 22 points on 9-13 shooting and 4-5 from three, both a career high while tying a career-high ten rebounds.
“I mean Coryon Mason goes for 20 something tonight and he had been struggling a little bit but he came back and found his groove a little bit,” Tanner said.
The Wildcats forced 16 turnovers but only scored eight points off of those turnovers. The Wildcats took the lead with 6:57 to play off freshman guard Ja’Sean Jackson’s three for the first time since their 12-10 lead at the 14:37 mark of the first half.
“The problem is I just don’t think we’re tough enough,” Tanner said. “That’s not their fault, that’s my fault but we’ll grow from that. We’re not going to be soft this week, I can promise you that.”
After the past two losses to SFA and SHSU, the Wildcats head to Phoenix to face the reigning WAC tournament champions and NCAA tournament qualifier, Grand Canyon University.
“Our season in no way is over because we’ve lost two in a row,” Tanner said. “You find out what you’re made of when you hit adversity and this is the first time all year we’ve hit adversity. Just because we lost these last two, we ain’t laying down. We’re going to Phoenix to try and win a game.”
The Wildcats now head to a tough road trip to Grand Canyon (12-2) and New Mexico State (12-2) next Thursday and Saturday. The Wildcats and Antelopes tip off on Thursday at 8 p.m. in Phoenix at GCU Arena and streaming live on ESPN+.