Portland, OR (SportsNetwork.com) - The 12th-seeded Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks won their first-ever NCAA Tournament game a season ago, and now they seek more success, as they face the fifth-seeded Utah Utes at the Moda Center on Thursday night in the South Regional.
The winner moves on to the third round of the tournament to face either fourth-seeded Georgetown or 13th-seeded Eastern Washington.
Stephen F. Austin enters the tournament on a nine-game win streak, as the Lumberjacks tore through the Southland Conference Tournament with an 83-70 victory over Sam Houston State in the conference championship. The Lumberjacks are 1-2 all-time in the NCAA Tournament.
Utah fell out of the Pac-12 Tournament in heartbreaking fashion in the semifinal round against Oregon. The Utes and Ducks were tied, 64-64, with time winding down, until a Joseph Young leaning 3-pointer at the buzzer sank the Utes. Utah owns a 35-30 all-time record in the NCAA Tournament, and has one national title to its name, which was earned in the 1944 campaign.
This clash between Stephen F. Austin and Utah will be the first-ever on the basketball court.
Last season Stephen F. Austin ran though Southland Conference play without a single loss, and ended up beating VCU in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to earn the 'Jacks' first-ever tournament victory. The Lumberjacks were knocked out by UCLA in the team's next game, but SFA is back for more this year with a similar lineup. Thomas Walkup netted 24 points against San Houston State to help pace the team in the conference championship match, while Jared Johnson came off the bench to add 17 points in the win. Dallas Cameron chipped in 14 points, and Jacob Parker added 11 with seven boards against the Bearkats. The offensively driven Lumberjacks netted 48.1 percent of their tries from the floor in the title match.
Walkup and Parker power this team. The former, who was named the 2014-15 Southland Player of the Year, is leading the squad in scoring at 15.7 ppg, while Parker, last season's conference Player of the Year, is right behind at 14.1 ppg. The duo also finished one-two on the team, respectively, in rebounding. Walkup grabs 6.4 rpg, while Parker adds 5.5 boards per outing. They may be the only players for a Stephen F. Austin squad netting double- digit scoring totals, but the Lumberjacks are riddled with offensive talent and role players. Overall, the Lumberjacks are converting 49.1 percent of their shots for 79.5 ppg, and are holding opponents to 64.6 ppg defensively.
Utah is making its first tournament appearance since the 2009 event, when it was also a No. 5 seed. The Utes kept pace with the second-best Pac-12 offense in the semifinals of the conference tourney, and were ready to go to overtime had it not been for a dagger of a 3-pointer by Oregon's Young. Brandon Taylor netted 24 points to lead the team in defeat, while guard Delon Wright, who projects to be a solid guard selection in the upcoming NBA Draft, added 16 points with nine rebounds and five assists. Utah held slight advantages over Oregon from 3-point range and at the free-throw line, but the Ducks still pulled out the victory by hitting three more field goals than the Utes.
Wright enters the tournament leading Utah in scoring, averaging 14.9 ppg on 52.9 percent shooting. The guard, who also has a team-best 169 assists and 66 steals this season, is burying a healthy 83.4 percent of his tries from the charity stripe. He's trailed in the scoring department by Taylor (10.7 ppg) and Jordan Loveridge (10.1 ppg) for a Utah program netting 72.1 ppg. The Utes have won the most games of any team in the nation by 10 or more points (15), and rank sixth nationally in scoring margin (+15.2), thanks largely to a scoring defense allowing only 56.9 ppg.