, Port Arthur, Texas

February 22, 2014

Price almost right for struggling Lamar

Bob West
The Port Arthur News

BEAUMONT — What a difference a little coaching and a fresh approach made for Lamar University Saturday night at the Montagne Center.

    After only five practices with interim coach Tic Price, the downtrodden Cardinals took Sam Houston State,  the Southland Conference’s second place team, to the final shot before dropping a 74-71 decision. LU trailed 72-71 when Nimrod Hilliard’s 17 footer rimmed out with two seconds left.

    The miss came after Lamar had taken a time out with 20 seconds remaining. Hilliard, who paced the Cardinals with 21 points, was the first option and got a clean look. When the shot bounced away a small, but vocal crowd, let out a collective moan.

    “We tried to isolate Nimrod. Donovan (Ross) was screen and pop,” Price said. “If they doubled Nimrod, we could kick back to Donovan. If they fly off to Donovan, we were going to throw it inside to Amos (Wilson). We wanted to run the clock down to get the last shot. We had the right guy shooting in a one-on-one situation.”

    For Price, who was calling the shots in a college basketball game for the first time in nearly eight years, it was a terribly disappointing finish to his most taxing week in a long, long time.

    “I had a pretty good job before this,” he smiled wearily. “I was usually home at 6 o’clock. Most nights this week I’ve been up till 1:30, then up again at 5 a.m. watching tape, preparing for practice and working on a game plan. After practice, I was going to Port Arthur to watch Lamar State and Memorial, going to Baytown to watch Central and Ozen.

    “It’s been a whirlwind week, but that’s what you do if you are going to be a Division 1 coach. You have to push yourself and go out and recruit and find some players. It’s a major part of rebuilding.”

    Price certainly didn’t hurt his bid to land a full time gig as the coach chosen to clean up the Pat Knight mess. He had the offensively challenged Cardinals playing with energy and enthusiasm, his full-court pressure surprised Sam Houston into numerous turnovers, especially in the first half, and he made wise use of a short bench that’s been an ongoing problem.

    Unfortunately, the Cardinals just couldn’t get over the hump against a much bigger, more talented opponent. LU lost its fifth straight to dropp to 3-23 overall and 2-12 in the SLC. Sam Houston is 19-7, 11-3.

    To lend a little perspective to the fact Lamar was in the game at the end, the Cardinals’ average SLC loss this season has been by 13 points, they trailed Sam Houston by 21 at the half before dropping an 84-70 decision in Huntsville and their three victories are over teams with 10-17, 10-17 and 5-21 records.

    “I’m proud of the effort but not happy with lost,” Price said. “The effort was what we needed if we’d converted a few more free throws, stick backs and layups. We played a little nervous offensively. We had some mental breakdowns offensively but I expected that because kids had to learn on the fly.”

    Not once was fired coach Knight’s name mentioned in the post-game press briefing, mostly because Lamar SID James Dixon said questions had to be limited to the game. But those in the know could easily read between the lines, such as when Price talked about what you have to do to be a Division 1 coach. Also, when he talked about his challenge with the players he inherited.

    “Our pregame speech was it’s not your skill but your will,” he said. “We felt the only way we had a shot was to try and impose our will against our opponent. Sam Houston State is a very good basketball team. We were undersized, they were physically stronger.

    “Sometimes when you don’t have talent, you can have a talented effort.”

    Price agreed that Lamar let a golden opportunity get away when it didn’t take advantage of 13 Sam Houston State turnovers in the game’s first 13 minutes. When the Bearkats turned it over for the 13th time with 7:35 left in the opening period, the Cardinals lead was only 16-13.

    LU did finish with a 21-14 edge in points off turnovers but it should have been much more. The Bearkats more than offset that with a 38-22 thumping on points in the paint. They also had a 27-17 advantage on bench points, but it was 16-2 at the break. Price then milked quality minutes out of reserves Anthony Holliday and Preston Mattingly.

    “Not converting all the early turnovers really hurt,” Price said. “If we had capitalized, we’d have won.”

    In addition to Hilliard’s 21 points, including a trey with 32 seconds left that got the Cardinals within one, LU got 14 points from Wilson, 11 from Ross and 10 from Holliday. Wilson was the leading rebounder with seven, as Lamar came up short on the boards, 35-27.

    Next up for the Cardinals is Oral Roberts Thursday night in Tulsa.