KATY, Texas – Sophomore Nick Garth came off the bench to score a game-high 17 points to lead Lamar University to an opening-round victory over No. 7 seed Southeastern Louisiana, 77-65, Wednesday evening in the opening round of the Southland Conference Championships. It marked the Cardinals first tournament victory since the 2011-12 season.
The Cardinals (19-13) finished the night shooting 48 percent from the field, after a strong showing in the second half. LU knocked down 11-of-20 (.550) attempts in the final 20 minutes, and finished the night with six three-pointers. The free throw line was a strength for LU as it converted better than 83 percent of its attempts. LU also outrebounded the Lions, 31-28.
The Lions finished the night shooting 40 percent from the field with five three-pointers after getting out to a slow start from long range. Southeastern struggled to hang onto the ball turning it over 19 times which LU cashed in for 25 points.
Senior Marcus Owens and junior Torey Noel joined Garth in double figures for the Cardinals. Owens scored 12 points, while Noel added 11 on 5-of-8 shooting. Sophomore Josh Nzeakor scored nine points, while junior Colton Weisbrod and senior Lincoln Davis added eight. Weisbrod led all players with nine rebounds.
SLU’s Marlain Veal was one of four Lions in double figures, leading the way with 16 points, five rebounds and five assists. Dimi Cook added 13 in a losing effort.
“I thought our guys came out tonight dug deep and found a way to win,” said head coach Tic Price. “I thought our bench gave us a huge lift both offensively and defensively. That has been the story all year long. I have a lot of confidence in our bench. We also won the effort areas tonight. That was key against a team as talented as Southeastern Louisiana.”
The opening 20 minutes was a half that consisted of offensive bursts followed by cold streaks for both teams. The Lions started the game cold connecting on just one of its first six possessions, while Big Red took advantage of the slow start to build a 7-2 lead. LU connected on three of its first six attempts and then the two teams switched roles.
LU hit just one of its next six attempts while the Lions began to heat up. Southeastern hit three of its next five to cut the Cardinals’ lead down to two points. As if a switch had been flipped the two teams reversed roles again. Big Red knocked down five of its next six, while the Lions hit two its next five.
Despite all of the hot and cold spells, the Cardinal maintained the advantage until the 4:14 mark when Eddy Polanco went 2-of-2 from the free throw line to give the designated visiting team a one-point advantage, 28-27. The Lions were able to grab the advantage during an LU drought that last more than four minutes. Weisbrod put an end to the drought with a layup at the 3:11 mark. Following the layup, LU outsprinted the Lions to the intermission closing the half on a 9-2 run to take a four-point lead into the locker room, 34-30.
The Cards entered half shooting 43 percent from the field while outrebounding SLU, 18-16. Noel led the Cardinals in the opening half with nine points off the bench, while Nzeakor added seven. LU did the majority of its damage in the paint outscoring Southeastern by 10, 18-8.
The Lions were held to an 8-of-24 (.333) performance in the first 20 minutes, which included a 2-of-10 effort from beyond the arc.
It was a different Lions team that came out in the second as it connected on seven of its first eight possessions to reclaim the advantage. SLU opened the half on an 11-6 run sparked by two Marlain Veal baskets, including a three-pointer. After struggling beyond the arc in the first 20 minutes, the Lions knocked down their first three triples in the second.
The Lions jumped out to a three-point advantage before the Cardinals answered with their own long-range weapons. Owens temporarily restored order with a three-pointer at the 14:47 mark. He followed with another on the next possession. Garth added a third moments later as the Cardinals reclaimed the lead and pushed their advantage to seven points, 58-51, with 10:26 remaining.
After Southeastern cut the lead to five, Garth hit another three-pointer to push LU’s advantage back to eight points with 5:22 remaining. Owens followed the triple with a steal which led to two free throws giving the Cardinals a 10-point advantage – it’s largest of the game to that point. The Lions never got closer than eight after that.
The Cardinals return to action Thursday to take on No. 3-seed Stephen F. Austin. The Lumberjacks received a bye into the second-round of the tournament. Thursday’s game is slated to tip off at 7:30 p.m. from the Merrell Center in Katy, Texas.
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