Losing Streak Ended

BEAUMONT, Texas – The Lamar University men’s basketball team (10-7/2-3 Southland) rallied from a double-digit second half deficit to give the fans at the Montagne Center a thrilling 86-82 victory over Northwestern State Saturday afternoon. The Cardinals shot nearly 64 percent from the field in the second half as they put an end to their three-game slide in conference play.

The Cardinals finished the night 29-fo-56 (.518) from the field, numbers that are even more impressive when you consider LU had only eight field goals (.348) at halftime. The LU defense held Northwestern State’s up-tempo offense to less than 40 percent from the field. The Cardinals also outrebounded Northwestern State, 41-36, on the night.

“At the end of the day, this was a total team effort,” said LU head coach Tic Price. “We proved that we wanted to win. We beat a good Northwestern State team. Their record does not indicate how good of a team (Northwestern State) is. Tonight was a matchup of two teams in desperate need of a win. In the end, I believe when we went to our 2-3 zone that was the difference in the ballgame.”

Big Red turned the ball over 18 times (14 in the first half) but managed to neutralize the damage created from their miscues. The Demons scored only 14 points from LU’s turnovers, while the Cards scored 15 from 13 Northwestern State mistakes. The Cardinals also had another huge night from their bench. The Red and White had two players come off the bench to score double figures and outscored Northwestern State (3-12/0-5 SLC), 48-20, in that category.

Senior Dontavious Sears kept his streak of double-double performances alive with his 19-point, 13-rebound performance Saturday night. He was joined in the double-double column by freshman Josh Nzeakor who added 18 points and 15 rebounds. Classmate Nick Garth tied for team-high honors with 19 points on 4-of-9 shooting from beyond the arc – including one just beyond halfcourt on the state of Texas logo (for the second-straight game). Junior Lincoln Davis came off the bench to score 13 points for his second consecutive double-figure outing.

Sophomore point guard Kevin Booze made his return to the floor after sitting out the previous two with an injury. Booze came off the bench to score four points and dish out a career-high 10 assists (with only one turnover) and two steals.

“Booze is a tough kid,” said Price. “When he is on his game he is as tough as any point guard in the conference. He is playing with a real tender elbow, but he played through it. At the end of the day, he knows what we expect. He’s a seasoned player and if it wasn’t for the energy he brought this could have been a long night. I’m real proud of every guy that hit the court because they showed a will to win.”

Northwestern State’s Zeek Woodley entered the day as one of the nation’s leading scorers averaging better than 21 points per game, but he struggled in front of LU’s defense. Woodley finished the night with 11 points, and could only manage 11 shots on the night.

“The guy who guarded Zeek for most of the night was Preston Mattingly,” said Price. “We fronted him to make sure that if they went to get him the ball they were going to have to pass through a defender, and then we had a guy on the backside. We made it very difficult for him to get the ball.”

The Cardinals were forced to overcome two deficits, one in each half. After a slow start offensively for both teams the Demons started to inch away from their hosts. Trailing by two points, Northwestern State went on a 12-3 run to take a seven point lead with less than 10 minutes remaining in the half. The Demons pushed their advantage to eight points before LU started to close the gap.

The Cardinals used an 8-2 run sparked by four free throws and a layup from Davis to tie the game at 24 less than three minutes later. The game remained a one-possession contest until Northwestern State’s Ta’Jon Welcome hit a jumper with seven seconds on the clock to give the Demons a five-point advantage heading into the locker room.

The late jumper seemed to provide Northwestern with all of the momentum to start the second half. After Sears got a layup to score the first basket of the half, the Demons answered with a 19-10 run over the next 3:41 to build a 12-point advantage – the largest of the game. It appeared that Northwestern State was on the verge of running away with the contest, but LU didn’t allow the Demons to get any further ahead.

Big Red got the deficit back down to single digits after Sears got an and-one off a pass from Booze. After getting a stop, Booze found Nzeakor under the basket for another score. The Cards defense came up with another stop and this time it was Garth who took a pass from Booze. He hit one of his four threes this time pulling the Cards within four, 59-55, with 13:29 remaining.

The Cardinals completed the comeback when they took their first lead, since early in the first half, on a jumper from Booze. After the Demons tied the game at the free throw line on their next possession, Big Red scored seven of the game’s next nine points to take a five-point lead – their largest of the game – with less than 6:30 on the clock.

The Demons responded by tying the game at 76 with 5:11 on the clock, and even reclaimed the lead on a Woodley layup with 3:59 remaining, but that would be their final lead of the game. The Cardinals got consecutive threes from Garth, and a free throw from Sears to build their advantage back to five points.

The Demons made things interesting on the ensuing possession. After Devonte Hall got fouled he hit his first free throw but missed the second. In the scramble for the loose ball Northwestern State got the rebound and kicked it out to Woodley who buried a three to pull within a point, 83-82, with 43 seconds on the clock.

LU ran the clock down under 20 seconds before Booze began to attack driving the lane and finding Nzeakor for another layup. After the Cardinals got a stop on the defensive end, Nzeakor hit one of two free throws on the other for the final score.

The Cardinals head to Hammond Monday to face Southeastern Louisiana (2-15/0-4 SLC). The game against the Lions is slated to tip off at 7 p.m. from the University Center.

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