Stephen F. Austin 70, West Virginia 56: Thomas Walkup, Lumberjacks Outrun Mountaineers

BROOKLYN — In a physical slugfest of matching styles, Stephen F. Austin managed to distance themselves from West Virginia in the second half.

The Lumberjacks scored the first seven points of the second half and senior Thomas Walkup scored 25 of his game-high 33 points in the final 20 minutes as the Lumberjacks handed the third-seeded Mountaineers a 70-56 defeat.

Walkup set a new career-high in free throws made, making 19 of the 20 he attempted. He also now holds the program records for most points scored in a single game (33), most free throws made and attempted (19-20).

“We knew they fouled a lot, very aggressive on defense. So we knew we had to drive the ball, and it just started racking up. Tried to stay aggressive the entire game,” Walkup said of his 19 free throws made.

However when asked if it was the best game of his life, his current career high being 38 points earlier this season, head coach Brad Underwood interrupted his senior.

“No. I’ll answer that, no. It was a doggone good one, though, but no,” Underwood said. “I’ve seen him play better. Can’t let him be too satisfied.”

The 6’4” senior Walkup stole the show, not only with his beard that he said has kept since Nov. 1, but with his nifty moves as he coasted past defenders. He almost converted a one-handed dunk after shaking his man int he second half, and in the final two minutes he nailed a three-pointer that brought the Barclays Center crowd to their feet.

“Every single game, Thomas does whatever it takes to win. He’s had triple doubles. He was not in the top 15 in our conference in minutes played,” Underwood said. “He’s one of the most resourceful, efficient players I’ve ever coached.”

All this helped Underwood and the Lumberjacks earn their most convincing win in program history. The upset by the 14-seeded Stephen F. Austin ties the largest margin of victory by the seed over a three-seed, Ohio beat Georgetown by the same margin in 2010.

“I think that people realize we’re the real deal,” Walkup said. “A couple of years ago, when we got an NCAA win, they thought it was almost a fluke. But I think now people are starting to realize that [Stephen F. Austin] is a really strong basketball program and really starting to make a name for ourselves.”

The Mountaineers, known for their pressing style and entered the game averaging 14 turnovers per game, were flustered by Stephen F. Austin’s similar style. They turned the ball over 22 times, tying their season-high in a 95-87 win over TCU on Jan. 4.

“I don’t know why anybody would waste energy pressing us, we’ll throw it to you regardless, that would be a waste of energy really,” West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said. “We’re very charitable. We’re one of the most charitable groups in college basketball.”

Regardless of how charitable the Mountaineers felt, the offense continued to struggle as they shot a season-low 30.8% from the field. That and turnovers did West Virginia in on their final game of the season, a problem that has been occurring often this season for Huggins group.

“We can’t pass, but we haven’t been able to pass all year,” Huggins said. “We’ve start the game and we have guys pinned and we throw it arms high. We had a guy open on an out-of-bounds play and we threw the ball right in their hands.”

“I think, you know, I’m starting to think anyways that, when we spend a lot of time trying to teach guys how to pass, I think sometimes you better go recruit some guys that can pass because I’m not sure that it’s something — it’s kind of like shooting. If you’re a bad shooter, you can become a little better, but you’re never really going to be a good shooter. I think, if you’re a bad passer, you can get better, but you’re never going to be a good passer. It’s a skill thing.”

West Virginia opened up a 10-2 run early to claim the lead and led by as many as nine in the first half before the Lumberjacks stormed back with a 8-0 run, but it was a technical foul assessed to Nathan Adrian underneath the basket after a Demetrious Floyd jumper that allowed Walker to sink a free throw to put Stephen F. Austin up 27-26. The Lumberjacks never relinquished the lead from there, closing the half with a Floyd three-pointer form the right wing to put them up 31-28.

“From the beginning of the game, we were up for about ten minutes or whatever, and after that, they just did a great job of controlling the tempo,” Devin Williams, who had team-highs 12 points and 17 rebounds for the Mountaineers said. “They didn’t allow us to speed them up. And it was vice versa. They sped us up, made us do things that was uncharacteristic, and they just followed the game plan, and they just wanted it more.”

The Lumberjacks also shot a season-low 30.9% from the field, but reached the foul line a season-high 39 times, making 29 of their shots from the charity stripe. Geffrard had 14 points and eight rebounds.

Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2015-16 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.

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