Northwestern State nets Southland title

Northwestern State's James Hulbin (33) celebrates as Stephen F. Austin's Thomas Walkup lies on the  court as time expires in the Southland Conference championship basketball game on Saturday, March 16, 2013, in Katy, Texas. Northwestern State defeated Stephen F. Austin 68-66. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Northwestern State's James Hulbin (33) celebrates as Stephen F. Austin's Thomas Walkup lies on the court as time expires in the Southland Conference championship basketball game on Saturday, March 16, 2013, in Katy, Texas. Northwestern State defeated Stephen F. Austin 68-66. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

KATY, Texas — The nation’s highest-scoring team needed a little defense to earn an NCAA tournament berth.

Shamir Davis scored 19 points, and DeQuan Hicks added 13 and made the last-second steal that clinched Northwestern State’s 68-66 win over Stephen F. Austin in the Southland Conference championship game Saturday.

The Demons (23-8) earned their first NCAA tournament invitation since 2006 and third overall. Davis was named the tournament’s MVP, but Northwestern State didn’t seal the victory until Hicks intercepted a long pass by Thomas Walkup just before the buzzer.

“This is one I should put down in my book,” Hicks said, “and tell my children about it some day.”

Desmond Haymon scored 23 points, and Taylor Smith had 16 points and 14 rebounds for Stephen F. Austin (27-4), which led the nation in scoring defense (50.2 points per game) in the regular season. The teams split two regular-season meetings, and their third matchup fittingly came down to the final seconds.

Demons point guard Jalan West left the game with 1:59 left after twisting his left ankle but returned for the final minute. He missed a deep 3, but Hicks corralled the offensive rebound, and West got it again.

“That was the game — that offensive rebound,” Northwestern coach Mike McConathy said.

West let the clock wind down and then missed a mid-range jumper with about 10 seconds left. The ball bounced out of bounds, and Stephen F. Austin called a timeout with 5.3 seconds remaining to set up the potentially game-tying play. But Hicks stole a long pass and heaved the ball at the backboard as the final seconds ticked off.

The Lumberjacks were trying to earn their second NCAA tournament berth and first since 2009. Even with 27 wins, Stephen F. Austin coach Danny Kaspar was certain an at-large bid wasn’t coming.

“That’s the frustration of being one of those 12 or 13 conferences that only give out one bid,” he said. “You can have a heck of a year. If someone on your team or a couple of players on your team aren’t playing at their highest level, it goes away.”

The Demons trailed early, then outscored Stephen F. Austin 26-11 over an 11-minute span that also included Lumberjacks assists leader Hal Bateman going to the bench with his third foul. Davis scored seven straight points during the stretch, and West sank a straight-on 3-pointer with 5:29 left in the half for a 29-22 lead.

“I tried to kind of see how they were playing me,” Davis said. “Coach Mike just told me, ‘Be aggressive and attack them.’ ”

Women

ORAL ROBERTS 72, SAM HOUSTON STATE 66: Kevi Luper scored 26 points, and Oral Roberts secured its first NCAA tournament berth in five years with a win in the women’s final.

The Golden Eagles (18-12) went 28 for 33 from the free-throw line and took advantage of 20 turnovers. Oral Roberts finished its first season in the Southland with the school’s sixth conference tournament championship.

Sequeena Thomas scored 18 points and grabbed 13 rebounds to lead the Bearkats (18-14).