The Bearkats begin their 27th season of Southland Conference men’s basketball Thursday with a road trip to Northwestern State.
Sam Houston’s matchup with the Demons will begin at 7:45 p.m.
Thursday as the nightcap in a league women’s and men’s doubleheader at Pratcher Coliseum in Natchitoches. The tilt is the first of 18 regular season Southland contests for the men.
Sam Houston stands 13-13 in their previous 26 league openers as a Southland Conference member.
The Kats rolled up an 8-4 mark in pre-Southland action, the best start for the SHSU men’s basketball team since the 2007-08 squad started the year 10-0. The eight victories include victories over two 2013 NCAA tournament participants (James Madison and LIU-Brooklyn).
Northwestern State represented the Southland in the 2013 NCAA tournament after winning the league’s post-season tournament in Katy last March. The Demons received 10 of a possible 11 first place votes in the 2014 preseason poll by the league’s head coaches. Sam Houston was predicted to finish third in the coaches’ voting.
This fall in non-conference action, Sam Houston has averaged 77.8 points per contest, more than 12.0 points a game higher than last season. Junior college transfers Jabari Peters and Kaheem Ransom are leading the team with scoring means of 13.3 and 12.0 points, respectively.
Eight of Sam Houston’s 17 defeats in 2012-13 came by margins of six points or less. That included three overtime losses. This season, the Bearkats have trailed in six of their eight victories, coming from as far behind as 13 points in the James Madison win and 10 against LIU-Brooklyn.
“We have high aspirations going into Southland Conference play,” Sam Houston head coach Jason Hooten said. “We’re working to get better every day. There’s a lot of things we can do better.”
Three starters plus four other returning lettermen return for Sam Houston.
James Thomas, 6-5 forward, was the team’s 2013 “Most Valuable Player.” He was the only Bearkat to average in double figures in Southland play (11.0). Paul Baxter, a 6-1 sophomore, was one of the league’s top freshman performers last year. Junior 6-11 post Michael Holyfield continued to make strides with 151 boards and 28 blocks last season.
The other four letter winners returning are junior guard Marquel McKinney, senior guard Will Bond, senior forward Nathanian Mason and senior forward Terrance Motley. Guard Dakarai Henderson red-shirted as a true freshman.
Northwestern State compiled a 4-7 record in pre-conference action. The Demons posted an 111-92 victory at Auburn and defeated Niagara 107-100 in Natchitoches. Led by Jalan West (18.2 points per game), the Demons own an 87.2 team scoring mean.
Northwestern State leads the all-time series with Sam Houston 30 victories to 27. The Bearkats own an 11-18 record against the Demons in Natchitoches.
Sam Houston threw a scare into the eventual Southland tournament champions in the semifinals in Katy last March. The Kats held a seven point lead, 46-39, with under nine minutes to play. The Demons finally tied the contest with three minutes left but did not take the lead to stay until there were just 39 ticks left on the clock.
Thursday’s game will be broadcast live in the Huntsville area by KSAM 101.7 FM.