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Bearkat clinch top-seed, share of CUSA regular season title

Mar. 7—RUSTON, La. — With everything riding on one final game, Sam Houston men's basketball answered the call to get at least a share of the Conference USA title.

With a preseason projection of sixth in the conference, the newbies have turned heads as they have now clinched the first overall seed and at least a share of the Conference USA title.

"I'm blessed to coach tough, gritty young men that like that play the game together," first-year head coach Chris Mudge said. "They are about the right things — winning — and it makes coaching easy. They embody everything Sam Houston is about. I'm proud to be a part of it."

Behind a complete team effort, the Bearkats knocked off Louisiana Tech, 72-66, despite not scoring a field goal for the final 5:07 of the game as the Bulldogs climbed back.

Over that final stretch, LA Tech erased an 18-point deficit to get as close as three points with 12 seconds remaining.

Sam Houston relied on its entire roster to bring home the title. With 10 members checking in, all but one scored at least two points. The Bearkats got seven points out of their overall leading scorer, Lamar Wilkerson before he fouled out of the game.

The key lately has been the Kats ability to use bench guys to their full potential and get fresh legs on the court. Jaden Ray is a big part of that. The senior guard has fully adapted to his role with the team and came in from the bench for a team-high 14 points.

Ray's 14 points, along with Kian Scroggins' eight, helped the Bearkats outscore the Bulldogs 32-9 from their reserves.

"It shows us that we can do it," Wilkerson said. "We just have to do what we know what to do in defending, playing hard and trusting each other and coaches. Anything is possible."

That wasn't the only thing that Bearkats did well. Sam Houston has turned up its rebounding and against the second-most rebounding team in the Conference, they hauled in 42 to LA Tech's 35.

Sam Houston slowed down the CUSA Preseason Player of the Year once more but they could not stop him. Isaiah Crawford fouled out of the game after playing 34 minutes and garnered 14 points. His tag team partner Daniel Batcho became the main threat despite his four fouls.

Batcho tallied a game-high 20 points and fell just short of a double-double with nine boards.

"This is just a checkpoint. We have reached one of our goals, but it's a checkpoint to our bigger goals," Mudge said. "We need to keep getting better so we play well against Jacksonville State and in the Conference tournament. It's great to win a league like this in our first year, people have set us up to have success."

Now, with a share of the title clinched, Sam Houston will have an opportunity to get the out-right title. The Bearkats will host Jacksonville State at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Bernard G. Johnson Coliseum. It will be the Bearkats senior night.