Alabama at Stephen F. Austin
When: 5 p.m. CT, Sunday
Where: William R. Johnson Arena, Nacogdoches, Texas
Records: Alabama 8-3, Stephen F. Austin 7-4
Radio: 95.3 FM
Like Captain Kirk at the helm of the U.S.S. Enterprise, Avery Johnson is about to boldly go where no Southeastern Conference basketball coach has gone before.
That would be the William R. Johnson Coliseum in Nacogdoches, Texas, which is not technically a galaxy far away although, in major college basketball terms, it might as well be. No Power 6 Conference team has played Stephen F. Austin on its home floor since Texas Tech visited in 2009.
That does not mean the Lumberjacks cannot compete against major college teams. An NCAA Tournament participant last March, Stephen F. Austin already has a road win at Baylor on its resume. That resume also includes losses to the likes of Louisiana Tech and Louisiana-Monroe but the Lumberjacks are favored to win the Southland Conference. That, Johnson said on Friday, is the reason that this unusual home-and-home series came about.
“I have been knowing (SFA coach) Kyle Keller for a long time but this game is not necessary because of a relationship between coaches,” Johnson said. “When we make our schedule, we sit down and analyze what gives us the best chance to make the NCAA Tournament. (Stephen F. Austin) might go undefeated in their league. Playing teams like this is a best-case scenario for us having the best NET rating, which is what helps you in the post-season.”
Senior Shannon Bogues, a 6-foot-3 senior guard who averages 17.1 points per game, leads Stephen F. Austin in scoring but the Lumberjacks are looking to home-court advantage as their main asset. Johnson Arena holds around 5,000 fans, all near the floor. In order to maximize attendance, the school is also holding two giveaways (T-shirts and thunder sticks) and having free food at a street fair prior to the game.
“It’s going to be a tough environment,” Johnson said. “We will have to play some really good basketball.”
The Crimson Tide is on a modest three-game winning streak and has gotten valuable bench minutes from senior Riley Norris, making a comeback from heart surgery, in wins over Liberty and Penn State.
“With Riley coming on, getting some minutes, it’s a game-to-game feel (on playing rotation.) In the last two games, we’ve had a good balance with Riley playing a little more than (Alex) Reese but that’s not something in stone. Some games minutes might fluctuate.”
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.