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Cardinals’ rally comes up short

    BEAUMONT — On a night when Lamar University finally played winning basketball offensively, the Cardinals got beat because their defense couldn’t stop Texas-San Antonio from making shots.

    The Southland Conference’s hottest team won its fifth consecutive game by shooting 60.4 percent from the field (29-of-48), 38.5 percent behind the arc (5-of-13) and 76.5 percent (13-of-17) at the line. The Roadrunners, now 8-6, 18-9, secured a 76-74 victory by making 8-of-10 foul shots in the final 46 seconds.

    “We threw every defense we had at them and couldn’t get them stopped,” said Cardinal coach Steve Roccaforte. “When we beat them down there, and held them to 57 points, we were able to defend the dribble-drive. Tonight we couldn’t do it.”

    The unhappy result, before a Montagne Center crowd listed at 4,675, as well as LU’s all-time winningest coach Jack Martin and his 1960-61 Lone Star Conference champs, was a fifth consecutive loss. The Cardinals dropped to 5-9 in SLC play and 14-16 overall, and are now tied with Northwestern State, Nicholls State and McNeese State for the final spot in the league tourney.

    Northwestern, which lost earlier in the day, has the tiebreaker edge.

    Lamar came up short, despite a spirited second half comeback that saw it score 47 points and  shoot 57.1 percent from the field (16-of-28). It just wasn’t quite enough to overcome a 38-27 halftime deficit that was still 11 — 64-53 — with 5:11 left.

    Over that final 5:11, the Cardinals scored on 11 of 12 possessions, missing only when a twisting Justin Nabors shot that would have produced a 71-71 tie went in and came out. Down the stretch, they made 6-of-8 shots and 7-of-8 free throws, with the only miss an intentional one by Anthony Miles.

    Lamar thrice got within one — 68-67, 70-69 and 72-71 — but the Roadrunners refused to choke at the foul line.

    Nabors paced Lamar offensively with 25 points, but with eight rebounds didn’t get his usual double-double. He also managed to make just 6-of-12 free throws, a major factor in the Cardinals sinking only 18-of-27.

    Anthony Miles added 11 points, including 7-of-8 free throws, but was just two of nine from the field and was guilty of a mental blunder with Lamar trailing 74-71 in the final seconds. Instead of taking the needed three, as he’d been told to do, Miles dribbled around until he got fouled.

    Encouraging in defeat was the shooting of guards Reggie Mathis and Donley Minor. Mathis scored 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting and buried 2-of-3 treys. Minor was 4-of-7 and scored eight points.

    The Cardinals, though, couldn’t match up to the guard play of UT-SA’s Morris Smith IV and Omar Johnson. Smith sank 8-of-12 shots, including 3-of-4 three balls, enroute to 21 points. Johnson was 6-of-9 from the floor and scored 17 points.

    A 5-7 jitterbug, Johnson also broke down the Cardinals with his dribble drives and fed most of his six assists to 6-7, 285 pound Demarco Stepter who bulled his way to 13 points on 6-of-7 shooting.

    All of the game’s meaningful stats were close. UT-SA won the boards, 32-28, mainly because Lamar missed more shots. The Cardinals had a 34-30 edge on points in the paints and points off turnovers were 12-12. LU led in second-chance points 8-6, while UT-SA was up 15-11 in bench points.

    The Roadrunners led nearly all the way, taking the lead for good at 17-15 on a pair of free throws by Sei Paye with 11:44 remaining in the first half. It looked like the Cardinals were on their way to another poor shooting night when they’d made only 10-of-27 shots (37 percent) at the break and trailed 38-27.

    LU, behind two buckets each from Minor and Coy Custer, quickly cut the deficit to 42-39 and was still down three, 49-46, when a 13-5 Roadrunner burst stretched the lead back to 11. The Cardinals didn’t buckle, however, and managed to get the crowd back in the game down the stretch.

    Lamar closes out its home schedule Wednesday against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.