UNO’s come a long way in its first year in the Southland Conference.
And on Thursday night, Stephen F. Austin showed the Privateers just how far they have to go if they want to compete at the top.
The red hot Lumberjacks showed their trademark offensive efficiency, demoralizing the home team from the get-go in a 103-63 victory at Lakefront Arena.
And, to make matters worse, senior forward, Corey Dixon, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, suffered an ankle injury five minutes into the game and was on crutches afterwards.
His condition for Saturday’s home finale against Northwestern State is unknown.
“Obviously Corey’s a big piece of our team,” UNO senior guard Isaac Mack said. “We couldn’t get anything going there at first, and when he got hurt, it kind of took the life out of our team.
“It’s supposed to be ‘next-man-up,’ but we didn’t do that. We weren’t talking much at first, and when Corey got hurt, it completely stopped.”
Thursday’s victory was SFA’s 23rd straight, a streak that started on Nov. 29.
The Lumberjacks (26-2, 15-0), who clinched their second straight Southland regular-season title Thursday, need three more wins to become the first team in conference history to go through league play undefeated.
But with an RPI of 69, they’re likely going to have to continue that streak through the SLC tournament to secure an NCAA tournament berth for the first time since 2009. Last year, SFA won the regular season title but lost to Northwestern State in the tournament championship game.
Certainly SFA, which had escaped the Demons by two points at home their last time out on Saturday, looked the part of an NCAA team against the Privateers, and one that at the least will be a tough out.
“Coach (Brad Underwood) tells us all the time ‘Dream big,’” said sophomore guard Thomas Walkup, who led SFA with a career-high 28 points. “That’s what we’re doing.”
Running quick developing sets that usually ended with easy cuts to the basket (25 assists on 41 first half baskets), cutting off the passing lanes (33 points off 19 UNO turnover) and dominating the boards, especially on the offensive end (20 second-chance points, 17 in the first half and an overall 40-25 rebounding margin) the Lumberjacks scored the game’s first seven points, were up by double-digits after five minutes and by 20 shortly after 12.
It was 53-30 at halftime and UNO (11-12, 8-7 SLC) never got closer than that in the final 20 minutes as SFA reached triple-digit points for the first time this season.
The Lumberjacks shot 64 percent, 71 percent in the second half even after the game was well in hand and reserves were on the floor for the final 10 minutes.
UNO shot 37 percent. Mack led the Privateers with 15 points.
“SFA played a great game and did everything right on their end,” UNO coach Mark Slessinger said. “But I’m very frustrated and disappointed for our guys because this was a missed opportunity to move our move our program forward and to validate the hard work they’ve put in this year.”
While UNO was not expected to pull the upset Thursday, it still was a major letdown for a team which had won eight of its past 12 games following a 3-7 start including the first two conference games.
Ineligible for the conference tournament, the Privateers were looking at this final home weekend as their version of March Madness.
“We’re going to practice hard tomorrow and then come back ready to go on Saturday,” Mack said. “We just can’t have lapses on defense.
“That’s where it starts.”