Stephen F. Austin 70, West Virginia 56
HIGHLIGHTS | PRESS CONFERENCE
BROOKLYN, N.Y. – There is no question that the initials SFA stand for Stephen F. Austin, historically regarded as the father of Texas and also the name of the university named after that individual.
At present on the college basketball scene, however, those three letters – especially in the eyes of various roundball blue bloods who made it through the first round of the NCAA Tournament unscathed –signify something completely different after they triggered the latest major shocker in the big dance: Striking Fear into All.
Doing what they do best – this time on college basketball’s biggest stage – the ‘Jacks harassing defense trumped the vaunted pressing style employed by No. 8-ranked, number-three seeded West Virginia and Thomas Walkup took the nation by storm with a 33-point outing to lead number-14 seed SFA to a 70-56 victory over the Mountaineers in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
The ‘Jacks – who became the latest mid-major darling to reel off an upset victory in the 2016 NCAA Tournament – are just the 20th 14-seed ever to defeat a number-three seed in the history of the tourney. In doing so, they extended the nation’s longest winning streak to 21 games and their 14-point win was the largest margin of victory for a 14-seed over a three-seed in history.
The nation's leader in turnovers forced per game sprung the upset by pressuringthe Mountaineers into 22 turnovers which were turned into 29 SFA points. Helping the ‘Jacks cause, too was the fact that they only committed seven throwaways in the win.
Early indications didn’t dignify and sort of upset would be in the works as the Mountaineers capped a 20-11 game-opening surge with a three-point play by Jonathan Holton just over nine-and-a-half minutes in to the first frame.
Following Holton’s transition layup, the ‘Jacks cranked it up a notch or two on defense by allowing just one West Virginia field goal make over the ensuing 15:17 of game time.
With the Mountaineers’ offense grinding along at a lethargic crawl, SFA received a burst of offense by way of back-to-back three-pointers by Demetrious Floyd and Clide Geffrard. Those downtown makes represented the vast majority of an 8-0 spree that pulled the ‘Jacks within one, 20-19, with 8:51 remaining in the first half.
Walkup wrapped the surge with a pair of free throw makes – two of his career-high 19 swishes at the stripe on 20 attempts. With free throws serving as their only form of weaponry on the offensive end, the Mountaineers clung to their lead deep into the first half. The tide turned for good in the final two minutes of the stanza when SFA embarked on an 8-2 run – culminating with Floyd’s go-ahead triple with 57 ticks left in the half off one of Trey Pinkney’s two assists.
Seizing the momentum gathered at the tail end of the first half, the ‘Jacks rattled off the first seven points of the deciding frame to construct a 38-28 cushion with 16:57 left. Walkup scored the last five points of that spree, which began his stretch of scoring the next 12 points for the underdogs.
Realizing that Walkup was serving as the ‘Jacks engine, the Mountaineers threw all they could at SFA’s senior and another deluge of free throw makes by the higher seed sliced the ‘Jacks lead down to three, 46-43, before Jared Johnson came to the rescue.
Another one of SFA’s five seniors, the Columbia, S.C., product kept the magic going by drilling a pair of three-pointers sandwiched around a Walkup tip-in, upping the SFA lead to 56-47 with 7:15 to go.
At no point did SFA”s defense let up, flustering the Mountaineers time and time again down the stretch and six-straight Walkup free throws made it a 61-49 SFA lead with 4:44 remaining. The upset was ensured when Geffrard took to the sky for a roar-inducing alley-oop dunk thanks to an assist from Floyd with 2:40 left. Fittingly, SFA’s final field goal came from Walkup who laced a cold-blooded triple right in the mug of Devin Williams.
Williams finished with 12 points and game-best 17 rebounds while Esa Ahmad put in 10 for the Mountaineers.
On Sunday afternoon, the ‘Jacks will face Notre Dame in the round of 32 at Barclays Center. SFA will tip-off 30 minutes after the conclusion of the Villanova/Iowa clash which is scheduled to begin at 12:10 p.m.
POSTGAME QUOTES: Brad Underwood • Thomas Walkup • Trey Pinkney • Clide Geffrard
Stephen F. Austin - 70, West Virginia - 56
Brad Underwood: We beat a very good basketball team today, and I couldn't be prouder of these guys and the guys in our locker room. We took a really good hit to open the basketball game. Stunned us, didn't knock us out. But I think it shows the true character with which these guys have, our team has. We fought back. And we stayed aggressive. I think it was something that was a big part of the game was us getting to the foul line. Even though we didn't shoot the ball well, which we're a very good field goal shooting team, I think you have to give West Virginia a tremendous amount of credit for the way they played defensively. Shooting 30 percent is a pretty ugly basketball game for both teams.
But, again, I think that we established ourselves. We hit some timely shots late. Jared Johnson hit a couple. And then this guy to my left literally just took over the game down the stretch. All in all, very, very pleased. I'm extremely excited about the character with which we played tonight. The toughness. That's who we pride ourselves in being, and these guys are to be commended.
I think the other thing that was very, very instrumental and it will never show up on the stat sheet was the job Trey Pinkney and Dallas Cameron did defensively. Everything we do starts with them. They were phenomenal guarding the basketball, phenomenal, and it allowed Clide and Tom and everybody else that played to stay in line and deny, and we felt like our pressure really bothered them.
Q. Thomas, maybe not many people outside of Texas really know who you are, but I think you got a lot of attention around the country tonight. What should the country know about you. How good are you, and how good is this team?
Thomas Walkup: Very good. Very dangerous. This is probably the most talented team I've ever played on. We have tremendous abilities and are very explosive at times. And on the other side of the ball, we sit down and guard the heck out of people. It's a dangerous combination.
Q. Just in terms of what you think this win did tonight, you've been part of a group that's won about 85 percent of your games already. You've won an NCAA Tournament game here. Do you think that winning the way that you did, by taking the game to them and winning so convincingly, validates your team and validates what you guys are doing in a fundamental way?
Thomas Walkup: Yeah, I think that people realize we're the real deal. 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 SFA is a really strong basketball program and really starting to make a name for ourselves.
Q. Thomas, was that the best game of your life?
Brad Underwood: No. I'll answer that, no. It was a doggone good one, though, but no. I've seen him play better. Can't let him be too satisfied.
THE MODERATOR: Thomas, anything to add to that?
Thomas Walkup: Yes.
Q. This is for Thomas as well. 19 of 20 free-throw shooting in a pressure situation. Talk about what that was like.
Thomas Walkup: That was part of our game plan going in. 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.
Q. What was the key to breaking their press tonight? That seemed like it was a real team effort for all of you guys to get to them.
Clide Geffrard: In practice we had worked on the press with seven people. So our coach, he harped on like no over-the-top passes, like low passes because they was real long. So every time we were doing it, every time we turned it over -- I've got a habit of making high passes. So he was getting on me every time. So I said, I'm not going to get yelled at in this game on national TV. So I made sure I made all low passes.
Trey Pinkney: Also being poised was a big part of our goal, and like Clide said, making low passes. Getting underneath the defenders. And once we were able to pass it out of the initial trap, then attacking because we had numbers at that point. So just basically controlling the ball, accepting the traps that it's coming, and making good passes, delivering it to our teammates, and advancing it at that point.
Thomas Walkup: I thought Trey and Dallas did an incredible job handling that pressure, especially against bigger guys for Trey, and really getting us -- breaking the press and then getting it to offense pretty quick.
Q. For Thomas, how long has the beard been going?
Thomas Walkup: Since November 1st.
Q. Just for all the players actually, how did the flow and like the pacing of the game feel to you while you were in the moment? Was it like as fast as you thought it was going to be? How did it feel when you were going through it?
Thomas Walkup: At first, we definitely got punched in the mouth. They got off to an early lead, but I think the game really settled down after that. I think playing in the NCAA Tournament the past couple years really helped with that. We found our composure, and the game really, really slowed down for us.
Q. All three of you guys, a couple West Virginia players were in here, and they both said that they didn't take you guys seriously. Did you feel like at least at the start of the game that they kind of thought they were going to walk over you guys? Regardless, how does it feel to hear that after a win like this?
Clide Geffrard: I didn't really take it like -- take no harm to it because, before I came, I didn't know who SFA is. So I said the same thing he was saying, Stephen A? So I didn't really take that to heart or nothing like that.
Trey Pinkney: I felt like they might have overlooked us a little bit. It feels good to hear that they respect us now after a win like that, and a lot more teams probably respect us now after a win like that.
Thomas Walkup: Yeah, definitely. Of course, we knew the comments that have been made. We saw them, and I think that was a little extra motivation for us. It feels good to have their respect now.
Q. It seems like you guys have done this now twice in the tournament, but there have been a number of so called mid-major teams that are not just winning upsets, but there's sort of, let's say, a narrowing of the athleticism gap, and you're able to sort of take it to teams the way you were able to with West Virginia tonight. Do you think that's true across the board? And do you think that you're able to, at Stephen F. Austin, do things that, say, you couldn't have done in a mid-major 10, 20, 30 years ago?
Brad Underwood: I was at one 10, 12, 15 years ago. I was a longtime assistant at Western Illinois. We didn't have players like Thomas Walkup. He was the best player on the court tonight. I don't know if he's that what that 's translates to in the beyond. Tonight he was the best player on the court. When you get seniors and you get a group that works -- I mean, this young man wasn't recruited out of high school. I mean, Division II schools recruit him. He comes to Stephen F. Austin, goes 19 of 20 from the free-throw line, and as a freshman was a 50-something percent free-throw shooter. He's a self-made student-athlete. He's everything that's good about college sports.
And yet we're able to get better players and keep them for their career. And have seniors. And so there's a maturity. One of the biggest discrepancies in college sports is the difference between an 18-year-old freshman and a 22-year-old senior. The maturity level is drastically different.
But, yeah, I love Bob Huggins to death. There's nobody that's done any more. But I couldn't be prouder of our guys because I thought we played just as hard or harder, and I thought that our players were -- fought and competed and were just as good as them, and we had the best player on the court tonight.
Q. There were large portions where it seemed like they started to settle for jump shots. Could you feel the game tip in your balance, tip in your favor at those points when they started to settle.
Brad Underwood: Well, holding them 0 for 9 the second half was a big part of it. We were so geared towards defending their perimeter -- or their interior players. For us to defend interior players like Devin Williams, it takes five guys. Our best interior defense is our perimeter defense, and not letting guys catch it on their spots and forcing them a couple steps further out and tracing the basketball and having active hands. For the first half, we did that. I think he had five turnovers at half. Absolutely, they got to drive in the basketball. That's what our defense does.
Tonight their threes didn't go, and it's all about making shots in the NCAA Tournament. That's a big, big factor.
Q. Just how resourceful can Walkup be as an offensive player? I mean, he started the game with the back door cut. He had the three-pointer. He's leaking out. We saw a little bit of everything tonight. Is that something you see on a regular basis from him?
Brad Underwood: 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. He's one of the most resourceful, efficient players I've ever coached. Certain nights, he has 10 points, 15 rebounds. He's our school's all time leading rebounder. He led us in assists. He led us in steals. His best position is the point because he's such a good passer. And as basketball IQs go, there's no one -- I'll put him against anybody that has a higher basketball IQ and feel for the game. And he's a deceiving athlete. And he's strong so he can guard multiple people. He guarded everybody from Devin Williams tonight to Jaysean Paige. His versatility is a big part of our success.
Q. Obviously, you practiced for it, but what is it that you were able to do to limit your turnovers? You only had seven against a team that's known for forcing turnovers.
Brad Underwood: Well, we don't rely on one ball handler is a big part of it. We're positionless. You saw in the first half, we had TJ Holyfield, the freshman five, who's really a small forward in nature, bring the ball up the court. C.J. Williams, we recruit those type of guys. Thomas handles the ball a lot. It's all matchup based for us, and it was a reason two years ago in the VCU game that we were able to have some success because it's multiple ball handlers. We did talk about playing under their hands. And then staying 15 feet from the guy with the ball. So when they ran and jumped, we had great spacing, and we wanted to attack from there.
Q. Going back to Walkup, you mentioned you felt like he was the best player on the court. Is that something you knew before hand, and were you looking forward to this matchup?
Brad Underwood: Absolutely. Most nights we play, he is. We're not on TV. We're on ESPN3, every home game, and we don't have many home games because nobody plays us at home. So once we get outside of our league, nobody knows about us, and we're trying to change that. We have good players. Thomas Walkup is as good a player and IQ, effort, unbelievable human being, as there is. If I had to start a team, I'm going to be hard pressed to find one that I would take over him.
Q. Coach, in the locker room just now, Jared Johnson said -- someone asked Jared Johnson, did you have West Virginia, West Virginia? He said, I think we SFA'D them. How similar is what you guys do to what West Virginia does defensively and does that help them?
Brad Underwood: I don't think it's about the defense. We quit pressing six, seven minutes into the game. That isn't what we needed to be at the time. We gave up easy baskets early. I think one thing we take great pride in, working for Bob Huggins, I know how hard his team practices, and I know how hard they play. That was our challenge to be better than them in that area.
We do that every day. I don't know if there's anyone in the country that works harder than we do and practices harder than we do. We do that every day, and that's all that matters to us.