Stephen F. Austin lost to East Tennessee State last season on November 23 — falling to 3-2 overall — then proceeded to win 29 straight games on its way to the Third Round of the NCAA Tournament. Not only did the program record its first-ever victory in the Big Dance – an improbable comeback win over VCU – but Brad Underwood took home the Joe B. Hall National Coach of the Year honors as the top first-year head man in college hoops. As for this season? Things are looking awfully familiar. The Lumberjacks were blown out by Baylor on November 24 — falling to 1-3 overall — and, you guessed it, haven’t lost a game since. With tremendous team balance, a pair of match-up nightmares and 14 straight wins already in hand, the question must be asked: Can Underwood’s bunch again streak into March? Considering SFA’s track record and the overall dearth of legitimate Southland competition, it’s becoming a stronger and stronger possibility – one that may ultimately come down to Saturday’s trip to Sam Houston State.
Despite losing their top scorer from last season (Desmond Haymon), the Lumberjacks’ excellent balance and spread-motion attack – predicated on finding the highest percentage shot via heavy ball-movement – means they haven’t missed a beat offensively. Upwards of 10 guys play 10 or more minutes per game and six different players average between 6.7 PPG and 13.9 PPG, including four newcomers. Those new faces – two JuCo transfers, Samford transplant Clide Geffrard, Jr., and freshman Ty Charles – have adapted well to Underwood’s offensive approach, each capable shooters willing to swing the ball around and work for the best look. In fact, the defending conference champs have recorded assists on a whopping 64 percent of their made field goals so far this season. Still, the biggest problem for opposing defenses is trying to handle Jacob Parker and Thomas Walkup, the team’s versatile leading scorers. At 6’6’’, Parker (the reigning Southland Player of the Year) technically plays the four or five in most games, but possesses guard-like quickness off the bounce and exceptional accuracy from behind the arc, currently shooting an absurd 46 percent from three. Likewise, Walkup is an undersized forward who serves as the Lumberjacks’ grittiest banger in the paint (6.1 RPG) and one of its best passers (3.2 APG) while leading the team in scoring. Both players are multi-faceted ‘tweeners who present unique match-up problems on a nightly basis, enabling SFA to become an even more efficient offense this season.