Lions outlast Nicholls to claim Southland Tip-Off crown
Published 9:45 am Monday, January 10, 2022
Four players scored in double figures for the Southeastern Louisiana men’s basketball team as it claimed the 2022 Southland Conference Tip-Off Championship with a 77-72 victory over Nicholls Saturday night at the Merrell Center.
The Lions (7-9) came out strong again as they took a double-digit first half lead for the third straight game. SLU led the Colonels, the Southland preseason favorite, 19-7 midway through the first half. However, Nicholls would rally to cut the Lions’ lead to 34-32 at the half outrebounding SLU, 25-16, in the first half.
In the second half, the Lions maintained a two-possession lead for much of the remaining 20 minutes and stretched their lead to 69-59 with 2:04 to go. SLU would ice the game making eight of their last nine free throws to hold off the Colonels and claim the inaugural Southland Tip-Off crown improving to 4-1 under head coach David Kiefer at the Merrell Center.
“I’m really proud of our unselfishness we played with all weekend long,” said Kiefer. “Defensively we were sacrificing our bodies and taking charges all three games. But I really loved our poise late in all three games.”
The Lions were led in Saturday’s win by senior Ryan Burkhardt who once again scored 20 points tying his career-high. The North Florida transfer was 6-for-8 from the three-point line and also grabbed three rebounds. Burkhardt finished the three-day tournament 15-for-20 (75 percent) from three-point range.
Senior Keon Clergeot added 19 points on 6-for-14 shooting and also grabbed five rebounds. Senior Jalyn Hinton had 14 points, 10 in the second half, while grabbing nine rebounds, with two steals. The Florida Southern transfer also had three blocked shots adding to his conference lead with 36.
Junior Gus Okafor scored 15 points for the Lions along with 12 rebounds for his third double-double of the season. The Baltimore, Maryland native averaged 21.3 points and 8.3 rebounds over the weekend shooting 20-for-38 (52 percent) and 10-for-23 (43.4 pct) from three-point range
The unsung hero for the Lions was sophomore point guard Roscoe Eastmond. SLU was +13 for the three games when the Denver University transfer was on the floor. He also scored 10 points in the win Friday against McNeese with 14 assists for the weekend while setting the tone for the Lions defensively.
“He is a true point guard and a competitor,” said Kiefer. “He’s a pest defensively and makes us better on both ends of the floor.”
The Lions shot 11-for-31 from behind the three-point line in Saturday’s win and were 40-for-79 (50.6 percent) for the weekend from long range. SLU finished the game 26-for-52 (50 percent) and had 18 assists. The Lions, for the weekend, had 56 assists on 83 made field goals shooting 83-for-163 (50.9 percent).
The Colonels (10-7) were led by Latrell Jones with a game-high 23 points along with seven rebounds. DeVante Carter aided Nicholls with 18 points and eight assists while had 13 points and eight rebounds.
Next up, the triumphant Lions will play their first home game since Nov. 22 when they host Northwestern State (4-13) Jan. 15 at 4 p.m. in the Southland opener.
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