Courtesy GoBearkats.com / Brandon K. Scott / SHSU Athletics
Konner Tucker scored 25 points to lead Sam Houston State to a 73-49 non-conference victory over Northern Arizona Tuesday night at Bernard G. Johnson Coliseum.
Tucker went 9-of-16 from the field including six three-point baskets. Steven Werner and Demarcus Gatlin also scored in double figures with 19 and 10 points, respectively.
Sam Houston (4-7) never trailed, jumping out to a 6-0 lead in the first two minutes. The Bearkats shot 51.6 percent, hitting 29-of-55 from the field.
Northern Arizona (4-8) was led by Durrell Norman with 18 points and 13 rebounds. The Lumberjacks hit only 6-of-25 from the field in the first half and ended the contest with 31.5 percent shooting (17-of-54).
Sam Houston State never seemed to run into trouble. Both teams entered the matchup struggling with seven road losses on the season, but Northern Arizona had just benefited from a buzzer-beating victory over Arizona State last Saturday.
Sam Houston, with only seven scholarship players suited up for Tuesday’s game, came out like a squad on a mission after having 10 days off since its last game against North Texas.
What’s become the Bearkats’ trademark this season, even as they’ve struggled, is smothering defense.
Sam Houston’s defense ranked at the top of the Southland Conference coming into Tuesday’s game and allowed the Kats to jump out to a 14-4 lead early against Northern Arizona, and eventually a 38-16 lead at halftime.
The Bearkats limited the Lumberjacks to 24 percent shooting in the first half and 31.5 percent for the game. Northern Arizona committed 16 turnovers which turned into 15 Sam Houston points.
Marcus James and Michael Holyfield started the scoring spurt for Sam Houston before leading scorer Konner Tucker opened the offense up with back-to-back 3s.
The lead never changed from the Bearkats’ favor and the score was never tied after the opening basket by James.
Tucker finished with a game-high 25 points and seven rebounds.
“We definitely came out hot,” Tucker said after the game. “We got out there and guarded good and got a big lead on them and just tried to keep it throughout the game. Offensively, everyone was doing their job. We were getting in down low, making baskets. Darius (Gatson) and Demarcus (Gatlin) were making plays, getting in the lane and kicking it out to me and I was able to knock them down.”
Transfer big man Steve Werner, in just his second game back after missing four games with an Achilles injury, scored 19 points and added seven rebounds as well.
“I think you can see how much we missed him for those four or five games he wasn’t in there,” Sam Houston head coach Jason Hooten said after the game. “We’re a totally different team when he’s there, not just because he’s a great player, but maybe more importantly than that is that it’s just another body in depth.
“You try to rotate two guys at the 4 and 5, it’s really hard to do. Now we have three guys to rotate in there and I can’t wait until Aaron (Thompson) and (Antuan) Bootle get back, then we’ll have five guys to rotate. So it’s huge having (Steve) back.
“The guy is a finisher,” Hooten added. “He’s got such great touch with his right hand and left hand.”
Hooten said earlier this week that he expects to have Bootle and Thompson back in the lineup by the time conference play begins, though it is unclear how effective they will be at the beginning. Bootle is the only returning starter for Sam Houston, and Thompson is a two-year letterman who along with Bootle are the only remaining players from the team that won the Southland Conference championship two seasons ago.
The only flaw in Sam Houston’s game was free-throw shooting, where the Bearkats shot only 42 percent for the game. The team’s goal is to shoot at least 70 percent from the charity stripe.
Sophomore wing Demarcus Gatlin gave a strong performance with 10 points and a team-high eight rebounds. Gatlin has been able to play more at his natural position with Werner back at full-speed.
Northern Arizona was led by Durrell Norman with 18 points and 13 rebounds in the loss.
The Bearkats travel to Cleveland State for their next matchup on Thursday at 6 p.m.
Five straight wins to start the season made Cleveland State look like it might be the favorite to win the Horizon League. The winning streak ended with a 63-53 loss to Hofstra. The Vikings are led by D’Aundray Brown, who averages 12.4 points a game.