BEAUMONT, Texas – Through the first seven games of the season, Lamar University has made a name for itself by hitting clutch shots at key moments jumping out to one of the best starts in program history. On a night when the Cardinals struggled to buy a basket, it was the defense that stepped up to make clutch stop after clutch stop defeating a pesky St. Thomas squad, 60-46, Tuesday evening in the Montagne Center.
The Cardinals managed just 35 percent from the field and ended the game with their worst three-point shooting night of the season, 4-of-28 (.143). Big Red also struggled from the free throw line converting just 16-of-29 (.552) attempts.
Realizing the baskets were not falling early, the Cardinals turned up the defensive intensity and never trailed in the contest. Led by a game-high eight steals from senior Zjori Bosha, the defense held St. Thomas to an 18-of-51 performance from the field and an abysmal 2-of-19 (.105) from beyond the arc. The Celts also struggled from the stripe knocking down just 8-of-14 (.571) attempts.
LU recorded 20 steals on the night as six different players recorded a theft. In addition to Bosha’s eight steals, senior Colton Weisbrod had four, classmate Torey Noel had three, sophomore T.J. Atwood and senior Joey Frenchwood each had two while junior Josh Nzeakor had one.
The Celts were forced into 34 turnovers on the night, but LU could only manage 21 points off the St. Thomas mistakes.
“This was an ugly win, but we will certainly take it,” said LU head coach Tic Price. “You have to give St. Thomas a lot of credit. They really did a good job playing hard on every play. We missed a lot of shots that we normally make. You don’t see Nick Garth missing wide open jumps shots.
“I didn’t have a problem with the shots we were taking. We got good looks, we just didn’t make them,” added Price.
The Cardinals never trailed Tuesday scoring the game’s first eight points. St. Thomas finally got on the scoreboard with two free throws from Paul Taulton at the 16:06 mark of the opening half. Big Red led by 11 points with less than 12 minutes remaining in the first following a Joey Frenchwood layup, but the Cardinals failed to make consecutive baskets for the next seven minutes as the visitors managed to keep it a three possession game for the majority of the half.
After a Kennard Robinson layup trimmed the Cardinals’ lead to seven points with just over five minutes remaining, LU responded with a tip-in from James Harrison followed by a three-ball from junior Nick Garth – hit his only field goal of the night – to push the lead to 12 points. That would be the Cards’ largest lead of the half as they went into the locker room leading by nine.
The Red and White opened the second half with a dunk from junior Josh Nzeakor to reclaim a double-digit advantage. Nzeakor’s basket sparked a 13-5 run as the Cardinals pushed their lead to 17, 43-26, with 13:26 remaining. Big Red was seeking the knockout punch, but the Celts kept fighting back.
Receiving a huge lift from its bench – 31 of St. Thomas’ 46 points came from its reserves – the Celts managed to trim the lead back to single digits, 49-40, with more than 7:30 remaining. The game was still just a three possession game with 3:39 on the clock when the Cardinals broke from a timeout and finally put the game away.
The Cardinals got another dunk from Nzeakor, followed by three Colton Weisbrod free throws to close the game on a 7-2 run for the final score.
Weisbrod led the team with a game-high 15 points and nine rebounds, while Nzeakor added 12 points and six rebounds. The Celts had just one player in double figures – Michael Alfred with 11 points.
The Cardinals will be back in action Saturday to take on Howard Payne. The game against the Yellow Jackets will tip off at 4:30 p.m. from the Montagne Center. It will be the Cardinals’ final home game before opening a four-game road trip that will carry the team through the Christmas break.