Men’s Southland Conference Tournament starts Wednesday

Local Sports

KATY, Texas – The 2020 Hercules Tires Southland Conference Basketball Tournament tips off Wednesday at 5 p.m. CT at the Leonard E. Merrell Center in Katy, Texas.

The tournament opens up with No. 5 seed Northwestern State taking on No. 8 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, followed by a third edition of the Battle of the Border this season between No. 6 Lamar and No. 7 McNeese at 7:30 p.m. to conclude the first round of competition.

No. 4 Sam Houston State awaits the winner between the Demons and Islanders while No. 3 Nicholls will face the victor of the Cardinals and Cowboys. Thursday’s matchups are set for 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., respectively.

No. 1 Stephen F. Austin and No. 2 Abilene Christian, the defending tournament champion, earned the league’s double-byes and will start their campaigns Friday in the semifinals.

The first two rounds and semifinal contests will stream on ESPN+, available on ESPN.com/watch and ESPN apps. The championship will air live Saturday at 8:30 p.m. CT on ESPN2. The radio broadcast of the title game will be on SportsRadio 610 KILT in Houston.

No. 1 Stephen F. Austin – 28-3 (19-1 SLC) – First Game: Friday vs. Winner Game 3, 5 p.m.
Since a one-point loss to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Jan. 8, the ‘Jacks have been on an absolute tear with 15-straight wins, elevating them to No. 26 in the latest AP Poll. The stretch is the fourth-longest in Divison I, behind Dayton, Kansas and New Mexico State. Led by Southland Coach of the Year Kyle Keller, SFA paces all Division I institutions in steals (10.5) and turnovers forced (21.6) per game. The ‘Jacks placed three on the all-conference squads in Player of the Year and first-team pick Kevon Harris, Newcomer of the Year and second-teamer Gavin Kensmil and all-defensive honoree John Comeaux.

No. 2 Abilene Christian – 20-11 (15-5 SLC) – First Game: Friday vs. Winner Game 4, 7:30 p.m.
The Wildcats look to repeat history as the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament, the exact position they were in a year ago when they topped New Orleans in the title game to punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history. Returning just one starter from last year’s team, ACU managed to reach the 20-win plateau again and won one more game in conference play. Senior guard Payten Ricks, the lone returning starter, landed on the All-Southland First Team and the All-Defensive squad after posting a conference-best 70 steals. Sophomore forward Joe Pleasant represented the Wildcats on the all-league third team, averaging 11 points a game on 50.9 percent shooting.

No. 3 Nicholls – 21-10 (15-5 SLC) – First Game: Thursday vs. Winner Game 2, 7:30 p.m.
Despite having 10 transfers on the roster for the 2019-20 season, second-year head man Austin Claunch had no problems fusing his roster together with a seven-win improvement over last year to tie for second in the standings. Savannah State transfer Dexter McClanahan earned Second Team All-Southland honors after leading the Colonels’ balanced efforts with 13.8 points per contest. Sophomore Warith Alatishe, one of four Nicholls student-athletes to average in double figures, was voted to the all-conference third team with 10.9 points and 8.3 rebounds per game, good for second in the league behind Defensive Player of the Year Sha’Markus Kennedy of McNeese.

No. 4 Sam Houston State – 18-13 (11-9 SLC) – First Game: Thursday vs. Winner Game 1, 5 p.m.
The Bearkats will be featured in the Southland Conference tournament for the 18th-straight season, the longest streak in the conference by 11 years. The Bearkats were one of five programs with multiple all-conference picks and the lone school with two on the top squad in senior forward Kai Mitchell and sophomore guard Zach Nutall, the only underclassman on the first team. Senior Chad Bowie, who recorded two or more steals in 11 conference games, appeared on the all-defensive list. SHSU’s efficiency is on display with their league-leading 1.09 assist-to-turnover ratio, with that number jumping to 1.11 against conference opponents.

No. 5 Northwestern State – 14-15 (11-9 SLC) – First Game: Wednesday vs. No. 8 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, 5 p.m.
After a five-year absence at the Southland Conference tournament, the Demons make their triumphant return to Katy after Mike McConathy led the team to a five-win improvement in conference action to earn the No. 5 seed. The longtime coach, in his 21st year at the helm, successfully blended eight newcomers into the squad, including Second-Team All-Southland forward Chudier Bile. The Bradley transfer paced NSU in both scoring (14.1) and rebounding (7.7), and six of the team’s top seven scorers are newcomers. The Demons look to snap a seven-game skid against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in their opening-round matchup.

No. 6 Lamar – 16-15 (10-10 SLC) – First Game: Wednesday vs. No. 7 McNeese, 7:30 p.m.
Despite returning just four players from last year’s 20-win squad, the Cardinals manufactured a 4-2 record over the final weeks of the season to earn the No. 6 seed and set up a third edition of the Battle of the Border rivalry. Lamar topped McNeese 96-91 in Lake Charles on Feb. 1 but dropped the regular-season finale 70-66 on a four-point play in the waning second. Senior T.J. Atwood, one of the few returners, was named Second Team All-Southland on Monday after ranking fifth in the league in scoring (16.7) and averaging just over 21 PPG in the team’s final seven games. Making their 19th appearance in the league tournament, the Cardinals boast a 14-4 (.778) mark in opening-round games at the event.

No. 7 McNeese – 15-16 (10-10 SLC) – First Game: Wednesday vs. No. 6 Lamar, 7:30 p.m.
Though they are no strangers to the Southland Conference tournament with a league-record 30 appearances, the Cowboys are making their first trip to Katy since 2016 as the No. 7 seed. USBWA All-District selection and Southland Defensive Player of the Year Sha’Markus Kennedy posted two of his 16 double-doubles against Lamar, averaging 18 points and 16.5 rebounds per contest against the Cardinals. Junior Dru Kuxhausen, a third-team all-conference pick and the Southland’s single-season record holder for three-pointers (125), averaged 16 points in the two meetings with LU and drilled five from long range in the latest showdown, including a game-winning four-point play in the final moments.

No. 8 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi – 14-17 (10-10 SLC) – First Game: Wednesday vs. No. 5 Northwestern State, 5 p.m.
The Islanders closed the regular season on a hot stretch, winning four-straight to vault the team back into the tournament field for the seventh-straight season, the second-longest streak in the conference behind Sam Houston State (18). A&M-Corpus Christi ranks 18th in Division I in three-point percentage (37.5), led by junior Myles Smith and freshman Jordan Hairston, who both shot over 40 percent on the year. The Islanders look to repeat their lone regular-season meeting with Northwestern State, a 67-62 win in Corpus Christi that extended A&M-Corpus Christi’s win streak in the series to seven games.

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