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Dawkins’ clutch shot bails out Lamar

CONWAY, Ark — Just when it looked like the basketball gods were ready to dish up more heartbreak for Lamar University Wednesday night, Kenny Dawkins rode to the rescue.

Dawkins, who had made only one field goal in the second half, buried a 20-footer with 1.7 seconds left to give the Cardinals a 59-57 victory over Central Arkansas. His clutch shot came five seconds after a 35-foot prayer by the Bears’ Mitch Rueter gave the hosts their only tie of the night at 57.

Rueter’s bucket, his third trey of the game, completed a 13-point UCA comeback in the game’s final 14 minutes. But the unflappable Dawkins, who had made two free throws for a 57-54 lead at 0:29, sprinted back down the floor, pulled up with one foot on the arc and got nothing but net.

The desperately-needed victory snapped a two-game losing streak for the Cardinals, improving them to 3-5 in the Southland Conference and 12-9 overall. Central Arkansas fell to 2-6, 9-12.

“It was ugly but it was a win,” said LU coach Steve Roccaforte. “After what we went through last week, a lot of people were questioning this team’s resilience. I don’t think they have to wonder any more. These guys showed tonight they have a lot of fight left.”

Lamar never trailed and owned leads of 13 points in each half. After going up 24-11 with 7:38 in the opening period, the Cardinals managed only one field goal and saw the lead dwindle to 27-24 at the break. In the second half, after leading 42-29, they made only four of their final 17 field goal attempts to let the Bears back in the game.

Dawkins’ game winner brought LU up to 37.1 percent (23-of-62) on the night, a figure that was dragged down considerably by a frigid 3-of-17 (17.6 percent) on treys. It wasn’t much better at the foul line, where the Cardinals sank only 58.6 percent (10-of-17).

Fortunately for Lamar, UCA’s marksmanship was even worse. With season scoring leader Marcus Pillow making only 4-of-15 from the field, the Bears went 17-of-52 (32.7 percent). They were 28.6 on treys (6-of-21), but stayed within striking distance by sinking 17-of-26 free throws (65.4).

Until Dawkins saved the day, Jay Brown was the main man for the Cardinals. The 6-7 Brown, on the way to his Southland Conference leading seventh double-double, scored 16 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, blocked five shots and had four steals.

Four baskets by Brown on Lamar’s first seven possessions of the second half helped the Cardinals regain control of the game. His final field goal, on a putback, opened a 40-29 lead. A tip-in by Anthony Miles made it 42-29, then LU went into another shooting funk.

Brandon McThay added 14 points, but was only 4-of-12 from the field and 2-of-6 on treys. Dawkins, who had only seven points in the game’s first 39:30, finished with 12. The 5-9 senior sank all five of his shots inside the arc and was 0-for-5 beyond it.

The second of Rueter’s three-pointers had trimmed Lamar’s lead to 55-54 with 2:02 to play. When McThay turned the ball over on Lamar’s next possession, UCA had the ball with a chance to take its first lead. But a hustling defensive play by McThay forced a Bears turnover at 58.9.

Lamar milked 29 seconds off the clock before Dawkins was fouled. The nation’s 11th best foul shooter calmly made two freebies, setting the stage for the wild finish.

The Cardinals move on to Nacogdoches Saturday night for face Stephen F. Austin. After dropping a 57-50 decision at Nicholls State Wednesday night, the Lumberjacks are 6-2.