Stephen F. Austin's Jared Johnson (3) drives toward the basket as Sam Houston State's Jabari Peters (1) defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the championship of the Southland Conference tournament Saturday, March 14, 2015, i
David J. Phillip
March 15, 2015

KATY, Texas (AP) For a second straight year, Stephen F. Austin dominated the Southland Conference on its way to the NCAA Tournament.

Now, the team wants to show off the Stephen F. Austin name even more on the national stage.

Thomas Walkup had 24 points and eight rebounds to lead Stephen F. Austin to a 83-70 win over Sam Houston State in the conference championship on Saturday night.

Jared Johnson had 17 points and five rebounds off the bench and Dallas Cameron added 14 points for the Lumberjacks (29-4), who also defeated Sam Houston State 68-49 in last year's title game. The Lumberjacks advanced to the NCAA Tournament in consecutive years for the first time in school history.

''I'm excited just for the fact that we can go back and be on the big stage and be able to grow the name Stephen F. Austin and try to build our legacy,'' said Walkup, who was named the tournament MVP for a second straight season.

S F Austin, which advanced in the NCAA Tournament last year with an upset of Virginia Commonwealth, shot 48 percent from the floor, including 8 of 23 from behind the arc, while Sam Houston State struggled at 36 percent, including 3 of 20 on 3-pointers.

The Lumberjacks lost just one conference game this season after going undefeated in the Southland last year.

''I'm extremely proud of who we are, the people,'' coach Brad Underwood said. ''I don't know if we have ever been off the (national) map. All I'm trying to do is continue to grow this program. ... Obviously, the national spotlight is going to bring some more attention, but what I talk about every day is trying to grow the program.''

Michael Holyfield led the Bearkats (25-8) with 18 points and 12 rebounds, Kaheem Ransom chipped in 16 points and six rebounds and Jabari Peters had 11 points. Sam Houston State was looking for its first trip the NCAA Tournament since 2010.

''As a coach, I think when you know you tried everything you can try and somebody beats you three times, they're just better than you,'' Sam Houston State coach Jason Hooten said. ''It's hard to deal with.''

The Lumberjacks opened up a double-digit lead at the half and pushed it to 51-35 with 14:33 left in the game on a Walkup layup, capping a 9-2 spurt during which he scored six points.

''That was a huge run,'' Underwood said. ''We talk about the first four minutes of the half and last four minutes of the half. ... Our run was basically our defense that secured some defensive rebounds that allowed us to get out and run.''

Sam Houston State responded with an 11-3 spurt to close the lead to 57-49 with 9:35 left, capped by six straight points by Holyfield. But that was as close as the Bearkats could get as the Lumberjacks extended the lead back to 13 at 66-53 on a Johnson 3-pointer two minutes later.

Stephen F. Austin took a 37-27 lead at the half behind Walkup's nine points.

TIP-INS

Sam Houston State: Jamal Williams had 12 of the Bearkats' 14 bench points. ... Connected on 23 of 30 from the free throw line. ... Shot 30 percent in the first half.

Stephen F. Austin: Has won 28 of its last 29 games, including its last nine games. The only loss during that stretch was a 71-63 defeat at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Feb. 14. ... Jacob Parker had 11 points and eight rebounds.

UP NEXT

Sam Houston State: Awaiting postseason selections

Stephen F. Austin: NCAA Tournament

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