GAME NOTES: A pair of teams that are in a class all themselves in their respective conferences, the 49ers of Long Beach State are preparing for a visit by the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks on Friday night as part of the annual BracketBuster event.
Granted, the Lumberjacks are tied with Northwestern State at the top of the Southland Conference standings at 13-2, but from an overall perspective, SFA is 22-3 overall, albeit with many of those victories coming against lesser- known, non-conference opponents early on. Most recently, the 'Jacks bounced back from just their second league defeat by topping Sam Houston State on Wednesday night, 50-44, on the road to mark their sixth win in the last seven outings overall.
Meanwhile, the 49ers played their final home conference game of the season on Wednesday night as they entertained UC Davis at the Pyramid. Battling back from a nine-point halftime deficit, LBSU recorded a 71-65 victory which not only extended the team's home conference win streak versus Big West opponents to 26 in a row, it also means the team has earned at least a share of the regular season title with just three games to play.
LBSU won the only two previous meetings between these squads, the last coming in 1991 in a 70-62 final at home.
The first half between the Lumberjacks and Sam Houston State was tough to watch as the squads combined to score just 35 points on 11 field goals. After hitting a mere 6-of-25 from the field through the first 20 minutes of action, SFA bounced back with 54.5 percent accuracy following the break as it held on for the six-point road win. Taylor Smith logged a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds, while Hal Bateman filled out his stat line with 15 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and a couple of steals. Jacob Parker converted just 4-of-12 from the floor, but still added 10 points.
The Lumberjacks don't claim to be an offensive juggernaut by any means, scoring just 65.5 ppg, but what they can make a case for is being one of the more elite defensive teams in college basketball this late in the season, allowing a paltry 49.7 ppg as opponents shoot just 37.0 percent from the field and 27.1 percent beyond the arc. Smith leads the offense with 15.8 ppg, shooting an incredible 70.7 percent from the field, but his dreadful 46.3 percent at the free-throw line drags the entire group down to a mere 61.3 percent.
Against UC Davis a few nights back, the 49ers had to respond to a nine-point deficit at the break and did so by shooting 61.5 percent from the floor in the second half and holding the visitors to 0-of-5 beyond the arc in the period. Keala King finished with 22 points for the hosts, followed by Tony Freeland and James Ennis with 18 and 15 points, respectively, while Dan Jennings grabbed 11 rebounds as he dealt with foul trouble.
Winners of four straight and 12 of the last 13 outings overall, the 49ers have actually had a different leading scorer in each of the last four contests. The squad is headed by Ennis overall with his 17.3 ppg, clearing 6.6 rpg along the way, but still the team is being beaten on the glass by 2.5 rpg at this point. Mike Caffey (11.7 ppg) and Freeland (11.1 ppg) combine for another 9.3 rpg, which means the top scorers are also working hard in the paint these days for Long Beach State.
The 'Jacks have had a few top-notch wins this season, but there is still something to be said about their conference mates which is why LBSU should be able to control the action in this matchup and dictate the outcome.
Game Date and Time