In a game with 18 lead changes, the Wildcats (18-9, 9-7) lost a heartbreaker to the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks (20-8, 12-4) 73-71 in Nacogdoches off a made basket from Lumberjacks freshman guard Sadaidriene Hall with 1.5 seconds left.
Coming into Nacogdoches, the Wildcats had won seven of their last eight while the Lumberjacks had won their last seven. With the loss, the Wildcats now sit seventh in the Western Athletic Conference with two games remaining at the Teague Center next weekend.
Head coach Brette Tanner and the Wildcats defense scored 21 off of 17 turnovers after scoring 41 off 37 turnovers against the Cardinals on Thursday. On Saturday, the Wildcats used the free throw line to stay in the game. The Wildcats finished shooting 23-27 after only shooting one from the charity stripe in the first half.
“Typical SFA and ACU basketball game,” Tanner said. “We’ve created these games with these guys that are great college basketball games. The fact that we lost hurts but we can’t lose sight of the fact that it was an unbelievable college basketball game. I don’t think we could’ve guarded that lost possession any better than we did, the kid just made a really tough shot.”
Despite a quick ten points in five minutes from senior guard Coryon Mason, the Wildcats trailed 34-29 at halftime. Mason went into halftime leading his team with 12 points. Mason and the Wildcats scored ten points off of eight turnovers while shooting over 43 percent from the field. The Wildcats lost the rebound battle 23-15 and gave up 12 free throws compared to the Wildcats’ one free throw attempt. SFA scored 15 points off of ten offensive rebounds.
“That’s where the game was ultimately determined,” Tanner said. “We got back into the game because we only gave up four offensive rebounds in the second half and we got some offensive rebounds. At the end of the day, it was just two really good basketball teams but unfortunately they had their hands on the ball last.”
The Wildcats roared back in the second half dropping 23 of their 42 second half points from the free throw line. However the Wildcats went three for six on their final six attempts at the charity stripe. Mason and senior forward Tobias Cameron were the shooters. Tanner said his team prepared to have longer possessions to give themselves a chance to win and they did but it wasn’t enough to knock off the Lumberjacks.
“Bottom line is yeah we missed a couple of free throws but we had a couple key turnovers late in the game and they isolated us in the post,” Tanner said. “Ultimately SFA made some plays and I have to give them credit.”
Alongside Mason’s 19 was junior forward Airion Simmons’ 17 points with 15 of those coming in the second half. Simmons and Mason shot for a combined 63 percent from the field on 10-16 shooting while the rest of the team shot a combined 29 percent from the field on 11-39 shooting.
After a tough loss against the fourth best team in the WAC, the Wildcats (18-9, 9-7) head home to close out the season against the Dixie State Trailblazers (13-15, 6-9) and Tarleton Texans (13-15, 8-7).
“This game doesn’t change anything,” Tanner said. “It would’ve been nice to win and it would’ve given us some great confidence heading into the last week to finish the season but it means nothing in the standings. We have to control what we can control and that’s winning these final two games at home. We can’t win two if we don’t win one so we have to do everything we can to lock in and get ready for Dixie State on Thursday.”
The Wildcats (18-9, 9-7) and Trailblazers (13-15, 6-9) tip at 7 p.m. on Thursday for their final weekend at the Teague Center. The game will be streamed live on ESPN+.