Sanders, Sansom spark sputtering Lamar past UCA
BEAUMONT — University of Texas football coach Darrell Royal, rather than apologize for the way his team huffed and puffed on the way to a less than artistic victory over an inferior foe, once observed, “Old ugly is better than old nothin’.”
Lamar University basketball coach Steve Roccaforte can relate.
Roccaforte’s Cardinals, desperately needing a victory after a heartbreaking overtime loss to Stephen F. Austin and a demoralzing blowout at the hands of Sam Houston, rebounded with a sluggish 62-50 decision over Central Arkansas Thursday night at the Montagne Center.
It was a win that was about as much fun offensively as a root canal, but it was a win nonetheless and Roccaforte was happy to get it.
“I don’t think we played particularly well, but I thought we did play hard and tried to execute. Roccaforte said. “I wanted us to play better and win by more, but in reality I expected it to be a hard game.”
It would have been a lot harder if Lamar Sanders, in his words, hadn’t got back “to doing the dirty work nobody else wants to do,” and if walk-on guard Ray Sansom had not energized the struggling Cardinals at a time the game seemed to be hanging in the balance.
Sanders, who was limited to seven points and three rebounds in the Sam Houston debacle, delivered the kind of blue collar, wire-to-wire effort Cardinal fans have come to expect. The 6-6 junior authored his sixth double-double of the season, scoring 10 points and collaring 18 rebounds.
“I felt like I needed to step it up defensively and on the boards,” Sanders said. “I got back to the old me and started playing dirty basketball again, trying to grind it out.”
Sansom, meanwhile, with Lamar’s veteran guard duo of Matt Barrow and Brandon Chappell having their problems, provided a jolt of pure adrenalin off the bench. Playing 19 minutes, he scored nine points and was the only one of nine players Roccaforte employed who didn’t have a turnover.
The 6-1 junior from Houston Jones played a key role in a 13-2 Lamar run early in the second half that broke a 31-31 tie and put the Cardinals firmly in control. Sansom scored seven of his points during a stretch of 5:21, making all three of his shots, including a three-pointer to stretch the lead to 13.
“It was a blessing to get to get some minutes,” said Sansom, who had played only 24 minutes and scored just five points in Lamar’s first 18 games. “I have a lot of fight in me and I know I have the talent to compete.”
Ironcially, he wouldn’t have gotten the chance if Darren Hopkins hadn’t asked Roccaforte to reconsider earlier in the season after the coach told Sansom to turn in his equipment. Hopkins made a convincing case about what a good teammate Sansom was, how hard he worked and how every player on the team loved him.
Roccaforte relented and was glad he did, after LU improved to 2-2 in Southland Conference play and 8-10 overall.
“He’s a real asset,” said Roccaforte. “He works hard, he’s quick, he’s fast and he does what you tell him to do. He’s very obedient. You tell Ray to swing the ball and he swings the ball. He’s probably going to start playing a little bit more.
“He’ll play good defense and he will do what you want him to do on offense and he’ll get open every single time so that we can start our offense. Hopefully that will make other guys play harder, because he’s about to start taking somebody’s minutes. That’s a fact.”
Lamar, aside from the five-minute burst in the second half, did a lot of sputtering against a Bears team that dropped to 1-4, 6-12. The Cardinals turned the ball over 16 times, shot 38.5 percent, didn’t do a good job finishing off opportunities around the basket and clanked free throws until late in the game.
The snapshot of how feeble LU could be came in a span of 14 possessions starting at the 4:22 mark of the first half. Leading 29-19, the victors managed to score only once in those next 14 trips down the floor. They made 1-of-13 shots and turned the ball over five times.
UCA took advantage to outscore the Cardinals 12-2 and tie the score 31-31 with 15:16 to play. In a span of 9:06, Lamar’s only basket had been a putback by Sanders. Another rebound basket by Sanders snapped the tie and triggered the 13-2 run that broke the game open.
Down the stretch, amazingly, Lamar sank nine straight free throws and 11-of-12 to get all the way up to 66.7 percent for the game. James Davis, who finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and four assists, made six straight freebies in the final 4:25.
Next up for LU is defending SLC champ Northwestern State Saturday night at the Montagne Center.