Friday, March 12, 2010

A look back to seven years ago

Saturday, the Bearkats will take on Stephen F. Austin in the Southland Conference Championship game at the Merrell Center in Katy. Seven years ago the Kats and Jacks hooked up in the Southland Finals with SHSU notching an overtime victory to advance to the NCAA Tournament.

Here is the game story that ran in the Huntsville Item the day after:

Kats March On

originally published March 15, 2003
By Jason Barfield
The Huntsville Item

If there was any doubt what month it is, the Bearkats and Lumberjacks quickly reminded more than 5,000 fans at Johnson Coliseum the meaning of March Madness.

Donald Cole hit a 3-pointer with 13 seconds left in overtime to lift Sam Houston State to 69-66 victory over Stephen F. Austin on Friday afternoon, earning the Kats their first-ever bid to the NCAA Tournament.

The shot put the Kats up by two. Cole hit one more free throw with two seconds left to give them a three-point victory.

"We wanted to spread it out, and I didn't think they were going to leave me open and they did," said Cole who was named tournament MVP. "(Robert Shannon) hit me in the corner and I looked up and the point guard, who is a lot shorter than me was in front, so I just decided to take the shot and it went in."

Cole's shot was necessary because just 20 second earlier, Antonio Burks hit a jumper to give SFA its first lead of the overtime period.

The Kats brought the ball down the floor and called a timeout with 32 seconds left to set up their offense. SHSU head coach Bob Marlin said he actually called three plays depending on what the Lumberjacks defense did.

"We had seen them run some 1-3-1 (zone defenses) against Arlington and we walked through it this morning in case we saw it," Marlin said about the final play of the game.

"We were going to try and run it to Jason (Stephenson) and use him as a decoy thinking they were going to go with him. He cut and (Marcus) Clark stayed so we knew it was going to be the zone so we went straight to domino."

Domino is the name of the play the Bearkats were running when Cole hit his game-winner.

SFA coach Danny Kaspar said he wasn't looking for an outside shot. That's why the Jacks went to the zone.

"We expected them to drive to the basket and try to draw the foul," Kaspar said. "Se we went to the 1-3-1 zone to defend it. You know Cole taking a 3 is not a bad shot to give."

Marlin said Cole was the man he wanted to have take the shot with the game on the line.

"There is not another guy on the team shooting we want taking that last shot then Donald Cole," Marlin said. "He is probably our best 3-point shooter, even though he is a post player. Big players make big plays and that is what he did, and that is why he is the player of the year."

Cole, who was named Southland Conference Player of the Year, finished with a game-high 26 points. He also grabbed 11 rebounds. He came up big every time the Kats needed it.

With 1:34 left in regulation, the senior from Port Arthur scored to put the Kats up by three. He also scored the first basket of the overtime period.

"I told myself that if the opportunity presented itself I was going to come through for the team," Cole said.

The Kats seemed to be in control early in the second half. Jay Oliphant made a shot inside the paint and was fouled on the play. He hit the free throw to put the Kats up 51-37 with 11:51 to play.

However the Lumberjacks responded like the second-place team in conference. Over the next 6:21, SFA went on a 17-1 run to take a 54-52 lead, their first since an 18-17 advantage with 6:30 left in the first half.

"We told our guys they were going to make a run because they are a very efficient team," Marlin said. "They are one of the top shooting teams in the country. Their guys stepped up and hit some big shots, and they got the lead and took the momentum."

Stephenson hit a free throw and Felton Freeman made a jumper to give the lead back to the Kats at 55-54. With less than four minutes to play and clinging to a one-point lead, Eddy Fobbs, who was pivotal in the semifinal win against McNeese State, jumped and got just enough of a finger on Burks' shot to knock it off course.

"I just did my best to jump as high as I could to get to the shot," Fobbs said. "I didn't know if I was going to hit it or not, but I just took a chance."

Fobbs then came down on the other end of the floor, drew a foul and hit both free throws to put the Kats up 57-54.

Taylor Moore, who was averaging just four points a game, had a career day. The sophomore scored a career-high 19 points, including a jumper with less than three minutes left to cut the SHSU lead to just one.

After Cole's shot put the Kats up by three, Burks evened the score at 59 with just 34 seconds left in regulation. SHSU had one last shot to win the game but Stephenson couldn't get off an attempt in the final seconds.

One of the main keys to the victory was the Bearkats rebounding. They grabbed 23 offensive boards and got 28 second-chance points. Overall they outrebounded the Lumberjacks 45-33.

"We talked about rebounding the ball and we have some good athletes that can go get it," Marlin said. "We have been beaten on the glass some this year but we got 23 offensive rebounds because we missed a lot of shots. However, second-chance opportunities are what it is all about."

The Bearkats now will wait for their next opponent. The NCAA's field of 65 will be announced Sunday at 6 p.m. on ESPN.

"It doesn't matter where or who we play, Marlin said. "We feel like we are good enough to beat some teams. But if you set a 16 (seed) (beating a No. 1 seed) has never been done. We won't go out and lay down next week, I can tell you that."

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