UNCW Press ReleaseHUNTSVILLE, Texas – Sam Houston State started four seniors and one junior in Wednesday's CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament game against visiting UNCW, but it was a sophomore reserve who had the biggest impact for the Bearkats in an 87-71 victory at Bernard C. Johnson Coliseum.
Second-year player Aurimas Majauskas poured in 19 of his career-high 27 points in the first half and led five players in double figures as the Bearkats spoiled UNCW's return to postseason play following an eight-year hiatus.
"We didn't come out strong out of the gate and were just a little stagnant," said Kevin Keatts, UNCW's first-year coach and the 2015 Colonial Athletic Association Coach-of-the-Year. "They did a good job hitting shots early and finishing. Give them credit…they made a lot of shots."
Majauskas, a 6-7. 245-pound forward, wound up connecting on 9-of-11 from the field and 6-of-8 at the free throw line for his game-high total. It was the most points for the Marijampole, Lithuania, native since scoring 20 earlier this season vs. Wofford back on Nov. 23 in the Coaches Vs. Cancer Classic.
Senior guard Jabari Peters, senior guard Kaheem Ransom and junior guard Paul Baxter added 11 points apiece and senior center Michael Holyfield had 10 and 11 rebounds for the Bearkats, who will host a second-round CIT game on Saturday in Huntsville.
Junior guard Craig Ponder led four Seahawks in double digits with 17 points, followed by senior guard Freddie Jackson with 16, senior guard Addison Spruill with 11 and freshman playmaker Jordon Talley with 10.
The Seahawks closed out their first season under Keatts with an 18-14 record after sharing the regular season championship in the Colonial Athletic Association. The Bearkats pushed their record to 26-8 and advanced to the second round of the 32-team event for the second straight season.
Sam Houston, which upped its home record to a robust 16-1 this season, built a 46-25 lead at intermission and maintained the double digit lead throughout the second half before the Seahawks scored the final 11 points of the game for the final 16-point deficit.
UNCW closed the gap to 17 points early in the second half behind 57.1 percent shooting, but the Bearkats mounted a 12-3 run midway through the final period for their largest lead of the contest. Ransom's triple in the left corner near the Seahawk bench gave Sam Houston a 70-43 bulge at the 9:23 mark and the Southland Conference runner-up coasted from there.
The Seahawks were hanging with the Bearkats early before hitting a cold spell and running into the hot hand of Majauskas, who entered the contest averaging 7.5 points per game. "He stepped up and made shots for them," Keatts said.
Majauskas netted six straight points to give the Bearkats a 10-3 lead just five minutes into the contest before the Seahawks staged a rally.Trailing 14-8, UNCW used a 9-3 spurt to pull even at 17-all on a bucket by Spruill at the eight-minute mark.
But it was all SHSU and Majauskas the rest of the half. Holyfield broke the tie with a slam dunk and a pair of free throws by Baxter capped an 18-4 run that gave the Bearkats the separation they needed.
The lead swelled to 21 points at the break and Majauskas closed the first half connecting on 6-of-7 from the floor, 3-of-3 behind the arc and 4-of-4 at the free throw line. He wound up scoring 13 of SHSU's final 17 points in the period.
Senior forward Cedrick Williams did match the all-time record for games played by appearing in his 125th game in a Seahawk uniform. He shares the record with all-time great Brett Blizzard and speedy playmaker Chad Tomko.
Williams, Jackson and Spruill played their final games in a Seahawk uniform in the Lone Star State. "We have a lot of work ahead of us, but we're headed in the right direction," concluded Keatts.