No. 5 Sam Houston State downs No. 4 HBU to advance to face UNO

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Bearkats hold on in tight second half to take down HBU, advance to tomorrow’s semifinal vs. No. 1 New Orleans

KATY, Texas – Sam Houston State is beginning to look like the team some pundits thought would win the Southland Conference regular season title. It’s also a look that has assured them of at least one more game.

A 12-0 run early in the second half allowed the Bearkats to withstand a furious rally as they eliminated fourth-seeded HBU 63-59 in a second-round matchup at the Merrell Center on Thursday evening. The Bearkats (21-12) advance to play top seed New Orleans at 5 p.m. on Friday. The winners will play in the championship game on Saturday night at 8:30 p.m.

“Like I said (Wednesday night), we’re just pretty blessed to be here,” said Sam Houston State coach Jason Hooten. “I told the guys at the beginning of the tournament not to take it for granted. Right now, we’re just trying to make the most of it.”

The Bearkats made the most of Jamal Williams’ game-altering steal with 56 seconds remaining. Clinging to a 56-54 lead, Williams made one of two free throws and added a rebound on HBU’s ensuing possession, setting the stage for all-conference third team guard John Dewey III to knock home a pair of free throws to give Sam Houston State a 59-54 cushion with 17 seconds left.

“He’s a high-character guy,” Hooten said of Williams. “I have confidence in him because I know he’ll do something good.”

Dewey III added six-of-six game-clinching free throws in the final 26 seconds that helped the Bearkats brush off an Asa Cantwell three-pointer with four seconds left.

“They came out with a lot of fire,” said HBU head coach Ron Cottrell. “It took us until midway through the first half to get up to speed. They did a really good job of taking us out of what we wanted to do.”

Sam Houston State held HBU to just 39 percent shooting, limiting all-conference second team forward Colton Lasher to just seven points on three of 12 shooting. Fellow second team all-conference forward Josh Ibarra had 16 points and nine rebounds, yet was limited to one second half basket.

In much the same fashion as they did in Wednesday’s opening round win over Central Arkansas, Sam Houston State jumped out to an early lead as Chris Galbreath, Jr. scored eight of his team-high 15 points early to spur the Bearkats to a 12-3 advantage at the 13:48 mark. A strong defensive effort also helped the Bearkats’ cause, who held the Huskies to just a pair of field goals in the first seven minutes of play.

Not fazed by the opening run, HBU worked their way back into the contest behind the play of Second Team All-Conference guard Reveal Chukwujekwu, who scored six of the Huskies’ seven points in a run that pushed them within 20-17 with 4:54 left in the first half. The Bearkats responded with triples from Josh Delaney and Dakarai Henderson to help extend the margin to 28-21 in the closing moments before the half, but Josh Ibarra scored the Huskies’ last five points before intermission, including a basket before the horn sounded to leave HBU down just 28-26 at the half.

The Huskies gained their first tie since 2-2 on a driving layup from Braxton Bonds to make it 30-30 early in the second half, but the deadlock was brief as Henderson followed up a layup with a three-pointer on the Bearkats’ ensuing possessions before adding another basket moments later to give Sam Houston State a 37-30 cushion.

After a three-point play from Galbreath, Henderson capped off the 12-0 run with a layup that swelled the Bearkats’ lead to 42-30 with 14:07 left in regulation.

“It’s good feeling,” said Henderson, who added 12 points and six rebounds while continuing to show signs of shaking out of a slump that hampered him much of February.

Galbreath pulled down 10 rebounds as Sam Houston State edged the a physical HBU squad in boards 37-36. The Bearkats were able to use their 12 offensive rebounds to add 13 second chance points.

At 17-13, the Huskies feel confident they will receive a postseason invite. For Cottrell, the opportunity to play beyond Thursday night is another step forward for a team that has gone from 13th to tied for second in its four years in the Southland Conference.

“This team was special,” he said. “They put aside personal goals and put the team first. I don’t think we’re done yet this season.”

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