Nicholls State University kept its lead at the top of the Southland Conference men's basketball standings thanks to key plays by three seniors in the second half of Wednesday’s game against Sam Houston State.

Roddy Peters and Tevon Saddler each paced the Colonels with 15 points, and Jahvaughn Powell scored the go-ahead basket on a pull up jumper with 1:23 left to lead Nicholls to a 73-72 win over Sam Houston from Broussard Court at Stopher Gym in Thibodaux.

Freshman Kevin Johnson Jr. scored 13 points for Nicholls, and Powell added 11 points. The win helped Nicholls (17-9 overall, 11-2 in the Southland) remain in first place in the Southland Conference standings. Sam Houston fell to 16-11 overall and 10-4 in conference.

The showdown featured the top two teams in the conference standings entering Wednesday’s game.

“It was a great win for us,” Nicholls head coach Richie Riley said. “Our guys found a way to win. Anytime you get a win in a 1 versus 2 matchup in our league is huge, whether the final score is by 1 or by 20.”

Sam Houston coach Jason Hooten said the Colonels are as good as their record shows this season.

“They’ve got a really good team,” Hooten said. “They are what I thought they would be. Richie has done a tremendous job with this group. This atmosphere was terrific. I just wish we would’ve played a little better.”

The Colonels looked as if they would run away with the game in the second half with a 55-47 advantage with 13:02 to play. But foul trouble and missed shots by Nicholls helped Sam Houston close the gap to 60-57 after free throws by Josh Delaney with 7:51 to go.

Nicholls held a 69-64 lead with 4:05 left to play after a layup from Peters, but Sam Houston refused to give in. A Marcus Harris (23 points) jumper followed by a Chris Galbreath (16 points) 3-pointer tied the score at 69 with 2:54 left to play.

With the score tied at 71, Powell scored on a short jumper to put Nicholls on top 73-71 with 1:03 left to play. Both teams missed key free throws that could’ve extended the lead in the final minute.

Nicholls held a 73-72 advantage with 8 seconds left, but Powell missed a free throw that could’ve extended the lead. After grabbing the rebound, Sam Houston had a chance to steal the win in the final seconds, but a shot from Harris near the top of the free throw lane fell short as the final buzzer sounded to protect Nicholls’ 73-72 win over Sam Houston.

Riley said the Colonels showed enough composure at the end to get it done.

“I loved how our guys just refused to lose,” Riley said. “We didn’t play our best game, but we did enough to win. We did enough winning plays to be able to finish it off.”

Peters, who scored 13 of his 15 points during the second half, said the Colonels were prepared for Sam Houston’s rally at the end of the game.

“It’s all about sticking together,” Peters said. “Basketball is a game of runs. Each team is going to go on its runs. We just have to be ready to punch back. We always want to keep our foot on the pedal. We were able to overcome their runs and make the plays down the stretch to win the game.”

Hooten said the Bearcats couldn’t overcome 22 turnovers and other miscues throughout the game.

“We didn’t play very well,” Hooten said. We had 22 turnovers, but you have to give Nicholls a lot of credit for that. I thought they pressured and the things that we did disrupted us enough that we didn’t take care of the ball as we normally do.”

Nicholls took advantage of a cold start by Sam Houston in the first half. A corner 3-pointer from Powell gave the Colonels an early 12-7 advantage. Saddler added a three-point play to make it 18-9 with 13:51 left in the first half. Johnson nailed a 3-pointer to extend it to 28-17 with 8:14 to go.

Sam Houston tried to cut into the first half deficit, using a 3-pointer from the top of the key by Harris to trim Nicholls’ lead to 28-23 with 6:27 left in the opening half.

But Lafayette Rutledge hit a corner 3-pointer and later made three free throws to help Nicholls take a 41-34 advantage at halftime.

Saddler jumpstarted the Colonels in the second half with a dunk, a jumper and two straight assists to extend the lead to 49-41.  

“I didn’t play much in the first half,” Saddler said. “I got my first ever tech, so I had to sit out a little bit. I came out in the second half energized. The team always feeds off my energy. I was able to make some big plays and it was vital.”