BEAUMONT, Texas — Lamar University senior T.J. Atwood was one of three Cardinals to score at least 20 points as Big Red defeated the University of the Incarnate Word, 86-66, Wednesday evening at the Montagne Center, sweeping the season series. Atwood led all scorers with 26 points and the Cardinals trimmed their magic number down to one to advance to the Southland Conference Championships next month in Katy.
“Most people look at what T.J. Atwood does offensively, but it’s what he does defensively that sets him apart,” said LU head coach Tic Price. “T.J. is one of our best on ball defenders. I thought he, along with Ellis Jefferson, V.J. Holmes and Anderson Kopp did a superb job of deny UIW’s shooters the ball.
“I’m so proud of these guys. They really seem to be locked in right now and hungry to get the win each night,” added Price.
Atwood was 11-of-16 (.688) from the field and a perfect 4-of-4 from the stripe. Sophomore Davion Buster and freshman Anderson Kopp (career high) each struck for 20 points on the night for an LU squad that shot better than 58 percent (32-of-55/.582) from the field. A model of consistency, the Cardinals managed to shoot better than 58 percent in both halves.
It was a similar story from long range as the Cardinals knocked down 11-of-22 (.500) attempts. Big Red took advantage of their opportunities from the free throw line as well converting 11-of-13 (.846) attempts.
The Cardinals forced UIW into 13 turnovers which they converted into 27 points. LU was strong holding onto the basketball Wednesday committing just seven turnovers which the Word cashed in for only seven points.
Led by 23 points from Dwight Murray, Jr., San Antonio’s version of the Cardinals shot 48 percent from the field, following a 14-of-28 effort in the second half. UIW was 11-of-14 (.786) from the free throw line. UIW came into the game with the Southland’s top two freshmen scorers in Keaston Willis and Drew Lutz, but the duo was held to a mere five points combined.
“To hold Willis and Lutz to five points after the both scored at least 20 against us at there place was huge,” said Price. “Those are two very talented young players.”
UIW’s lone advantage in the game came on the glass outrebounding the good guys, 31-23, including 13 offensive boards. UIW managed 18 second chance points from their 13 offensive rebounds.
It was apparent early that the Cardinals came ready to play. Big Red opened up a 7-0 lead in the game’s first 90 seconds and never looked back. LU grabbed its first 10-point lead on a Kopp basket in the paint with less than 14 minutes remaining in the half. The Cardinals watched their lead grow to as many as 17 twice before taking a 14-point advantage into the locker room.
The league’s other Cardinals tried to open the second half the way LU began the first. Following a Buster three-ball, UIW scored six straight to trim the deficit down to 11 with 16:21 remaining. LU answered with a three-pointer from senior V.J. Holmes which sparked a 13-4 run which pushed the Cardinals’ lead to 20 with 12:21 remaining.
After reaching the 20-point gap, UIW never got closer than a five possession game.
The Cardinals will travel to league-leading Stephen F. Austin Saturday to take on the Lumberjacks. SFA wrapped up at least a share of the Southland regular season title with their victory over Northwestern State Wednesday. The game against the Lumberjacks will tip off at 4:30 p.m. Saturday from the William R. Johnson Coliseum. It will be broadcast live on Newstalk 560 KLVI.