The Lumberjacks made a short trek up to Fort Worth for another Mid-Major test versus Liberty. And it was a night that would prove to be both extremely positive, and potentially costly.
The Flames came into the Hall of Fame Classic at 5-3, riding a 4-game win streak including a 21-point win over Missouri. The Lumberjacks at 7-2, were ready for the battle in front of a small, but energized Stephen F. Austin crowd in the beautiful Dickie’s Arena.
It was a back and forth affair in the first half. Both teams traded blows in a very physical game in the paint. Gavin Kensmil had a tough time early on with a consistent double team, combined with the nice size down low for Liberty.
Around the halfway point of the first half, disaster struck. On a drive to the hoop that drew a foul, SFA guard Roti Ware took an awkward fall. Moments later, you could hear his screams throughout the arena. Ware was carried off the court gingerly. No official word yet, but it appears it’s an apparent knee injury. Ware was seen in the locker room afterwards with a brace and crutches. Ware’s absence will be a very big loss for the Lumberjacks, should the injury be substantial. The arena was very quiet, and could have been a turning point in the game in favor of the Flames.
But Stephen F. Austin had other plans.
Nigel Hawkins returned to the starting lineup in just his second appearance of the season. Hawkins scored 7 of the first 9 points for the Lumberjacks, while David Kachelries picked up the rest of the slack offensively and sent SFA into the locker room with a 29-26 halftime lead.
The second half was all Stephen F. Austin. The Lumberjacks didn’t shoot the ball well for the night (39% for the game). However, they made some adjustments and moved the ball around better coming out of the break. Kensmil scored 11 of his 14 points in the second half. Latrell Jossell chipped in 9 points to lead the ‘Jacks off the bench. Combined with their traditional hard-nosed defense, the Jacks stifled the Liberty offense (32% shooting), opened up a 16-point lead and cruised to an impressive 63-51 win.
Losing Ware could again be a big loss for the Lumberjacks. But Saturday night SFA showed how to play and win as a team. I expect Jaylin Jackson-Posey or DayDay Hall to slide back into the starting lineup to replace Ware.
Now 8-2 on the season, the Lumberjacks have to be very careful in an upcoming midweek game vs Louisiana Monroe. Everyone (myself included) is looking forward to the game this Saturday at Kansas. But the Lumberjacks cannot over look the Warhawks. ULM has traditionally given SFA and Kyle Keller fits (ULM has won 3 of the last 5). That game tips off at 6:30 p.m. CST on Tuesday in Nacogdoches.