Walkup leads SFA to third straight Southland title
KATY, Texas (AP) — Stephen F. Austin had been dominant throughout the Southland Conference regular season. The Lumberjacks were even better while claiming their third straight conference tournament crown.
Thomas Walkup had 19 points and six rebounds to lead Stephen F. Austin to its third straight NCAA Tournament appearance with an 82-60 win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi — its 20th consecutive victory — in the Southland Conference Tournament championship Saturday night.
“There’s nothing greater than Selection Sunday,” Stephen F. Austin coach Brad Underwood said. “I am an old-school guy, and when they call your name, the hair on the back of my neck stands up, and I get goosebumps. It is something we will never ever take for granted, and for these guys to be able to do it three times is so special.”
Clide Geffrard had 18 points and eight rebounds for the Lumberjacks (27-5), who shot 47 percent from the floor. Ty Charles added 12 points.
Walkup earned the conference tournament MVP for the third straight year.
“That’s not something you take for granted,” Walkup said of the award. “I think in like 10 or 15 years, I will look back and realize how special it is, but right now, it’s all about us making the tournament as a team.”
Stephen F. Austin has the longest active win streak in the NCAAs. The Lumberjacks have won 26 straight against conference opponents over the last two years, also the NCAA’s longest active streak. Stephen F. Austin, the only NCAA team to go an undefeated 18-0 in conference play this season, advanced to the championship game with a 104-68 win over Houston Baptist on Friday night.
“We are a better team than we were a year ago,” Underwood said when asked about the NCAA Tournament. “I’m not sure if that will show in our seeding. ... This team is very good. We are going to go in there and not be afraid of the moment.”
Joe Kilgore had 14 points for the Islanders (25-7). Rashawn Thomas added 11 points and nine rebounds and Ehab Amin had 10 points and six rebounds as to lead Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, which shot 42 percent.
“Tough night, absolutely,” Texas A&M-Corpus Christi coach Willis Wilson said. “It boiled down to little things that they did and little things we didn’t do. ... I thought we did a lot of good things to start the game the way we needed to, but we got a little overextended there and had a hard time regrouping.”
After Corpus Christi jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the first 2:04, the Lumberjacks responded with a 35-6 run over the next 12 minutes - led by nine points apiece from Walkup and Geffrard. The Lumberjacks finished the run with 16 straight points.
The Islanders started 3-of-4 shooting, but connected on just three of the next 14 shots and committed seven turnovers during SFA’s run.
“We wanted to make them score through our defense in the half-court,” Underwood said. “We really felt like we could exploit them in transition. All of that combined - sitting down and guarding, limiting them to one shot and getting out into transition and running - was really what broke that stretch open.”
SFA went into halftime up 48-29 behind Walkup’s 14 points, and pushed its lead to as many as 26 in the second half.
Islanders: Corpus Christi’s lone NCAA Tournament appearance was in 2007. The Islanders have never been to the NIT Tournament. ... The Islanders finished 13 of 19 from the free-throw line. ... Hameed Ali earned All-Tournament honors.
Lumberjacks: SFA will be making its fourth overall appearance in the NCAA Tournament. The Lumberjacks are 1-3 in their previous three tournament appearances. ... Demetrious Floyd had nine points. ... SFA forced 20 turnovers and converted them into 26 points. ... The Lumberjacks were 22 of 30 from the free-throw line. ... Geffrard and Floyd earned All-Tournament honors.
Thomas and T.J. Holyfield were each issued technical fouls with 9:46 left in the first half after a verbal exchange. Ali was issued a technical foul with 1:17 left in the first half for throwing an elbow.
Islanders: Await possible postseason bid in a tournament other than the NCAA Tournament.
Lumberjacks: Headed to the NCAA Tournament for the third straight season.