Lions take aim at Southland Championship title, fall short

The second-ranked Lions competed on March 11-12 in Katy, Texas, for the Southland Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament. SLU made it all the way to the championship game, looking for their first Southland championship since beating Northwestern State during the 2004-05 season. 

The Lion’s second seed sent them straight to the semifinals, where SLU beat the New Orleans Privateers 74-65. The win moved SLU to the championship against Texas A&M Corpus Christi, where the Lions lost to the Islanders 65-73. 

The semifinal win led the Lions to an 8:30 p.m. Southland championship game versus the Islanders on March 12 in the Leonard E. Merrell Center. 

In the game, Guard Keon Clergot and guard Ryan Burkhardt kept the Lions competing for the lead with 18 and 14 points, respectively. Guard Joe Kasperzyk assisted with 10 points, with forward Jalyn Hinton blocking six shots, and had seven rebounds for six points. 

The team’s shooting percentages for the game were 37.5%  field goals, 45.5% three-points and 86.4% free throws. These stats were evidence of an accurate offensive performance by the Lions, but the defense struggled to hold back the Islanders when it was most crucial.

On the other end of the floor, Corpus Christi never held back, scoring 12 points in the game’s final four minutes. SLU put up seven points from free throws in this time, showing the difficulty of scoring during the last minutes of the game. 

In the semifinal game which led the Lions to the championship match, Kasperzyk led the Lions with 19 points and seven assists, with Hinton scoring 16 and 13 rebounds for SLU. Guards Burkhardt and Roger McFarlane scored 10 and 13 points with nine rebounds for McFarlane against UNO. 

New Orleans guard Troy Green made maintaining the lead difficult for SLU by scoring 24 points, 12 rebounds and four steals for the Privateers. However, this tremendous individual performance failed to put UNO ahead of the Lions. 

An aggressive play style during the final minutes of the second half lifted the Lions by nine. The final buzzer sounded as Hinton scored four points in the last minute and 27 seconds to solidify the win over the Privateers on March 11. 

The tournament’s results do not negate the fantastic performance by SLU men’s basketball, with both games having most players playing a significant role in the progression through the Southland tournament. With several players set to return, it is feasible next year’s team may return championship for the second time in the past 17 seasons.