Ross carries Lamar to win over Savannah State
Junior scored 20 points in the second half to lead LU to first win
SALT LAKE CITY – Donovan Ross scored 20 points in the second half on Thursday night as the Lamar men's basketball team fought back from a halftime deficit to beat Savannah State 75-66 in the opening game of the Global Sports Showcase at the Jon M. Huntsman Center on the campus of the University of Utah.
"It's always good to get the first one," head coach Pat Knight said of the win. "It wasn't a pretty game, and we made a lot of mistakes, but that's what happens when you have seven new guys and some that aren't used to winning. The good thing is that we won. Now we can study from our mistakes and move on, but it's always nice to get that first one out of the way."
Ross, a junior transfer from Southwest Mississippi Community College, put up a career-high 23 points and 11 rebounds, on the night. He shot 7-of-13 from the field, and he was just as effective at the line, picking up three three-point plays in the second half, and shooting 9-for-11 at the charity stripe.
"We missed a lot of layups in the first half, but you have to give the kid credit," Knight said. "Instead of feeling sorry for himself, he flipped it around. I thought he did a good job of concentrating in the second half, and he hit the shots he wasn't hitting in the first."
"I wasn't playing as aggressive as I should have in the first half," Ross added. "I just tried to play my game, and be aggressive. It was just my mindset. I couldn't let anything hold me back."
Keilan Blanks also scored double-digit points in the second half, ending the night with 16, and Nimrod Hilliard added 14 with a career-best nine assists.
Both Hilliard and Ross have now scored in double figures in all four games this season.
With the win, Lamar improved to 1-3 on the year, and the Cardinals will return to the court on Friday to take on host Utah before closing out the Global Sports Showcase against Grand Canyon on Saturday. Savannah State dropped to 2-4.
It was all Cards early as Marcus Owens followed up a Ross three-point play with threes from each side of the court to give LU a 16-4 lead at the first media timeout.
However, the Tigers proved to be up to the challenge, rolling off a 16-4 run of their own before a Hilliard layup and Blanks three put a stop to it and handed the Red and White a 25-20 advantage. Once again, SSU was able to counterpunch, this time with seven straight points to grab its first lead since the early goings at 27-25 with 2:35 left in the half.
The two sides would battle back and forth to end the opening stanza, with Rhon Mitchell receiving a nice feed from Hilliard for a dunk with seconds remaining to bring LU within two at 33-31 at the break.
It was more of the same to start off the second, but Blanks followed up a press-breaking assist with a floater in the lane to hand the Cards a 38-37 edge. SSU's Jeremiah Hill nailed an off-balance three to take the lead back, but Ross' second half surge was just beginning as the junior pulled down a pair of offensive boards and hit a pair of free throws to even things back up at 40-40 with 15:53 left in the game.
Ross, who had 15 points in the first 10-plus minutes of the second half, proved to be the catalyst as he handed the Cards a 48-45 lead on another three-point play, but SSU's Patrick Hendley followed up with a three. Blanks answered with a floater, and Ross scored five points to hand LU a 55-48 lead with just under 10 minutes remaining.
The Tigers would continue to challenge, cutting the deficit to three at 59-56 with 5:51 left, but an Amos Wilson layup and Ross three-point play re-established the Cardinal lead, and SSU would get no closer than five down the stretch.
Opening tip on Friday against Utah is scheduled for 8 p.m.