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Lamar roars behind James, Davis

     Lamar University saved its best offensive performance of the season for its final home game Wednesday night, unleashing a withering up-tempo attack to outscore Southland Conference West Division leader Texas State 113-102 and keep its faint post-season hopes alive.

    Although Mike James delivered another point-a-minute performance — 30 in 26 — and Brandon Davis buried 6-of-11 treys on the way to scoring 22 points, the catalyst for this explosion was senior guard Kendrick Harris.

    Harris, who had fallen into disfavor because of too many turnovers, contributed 13 points but more importantly dished out 12 assists. Time after time he broke down the Bobcats defense with dribble penetration, then kicked the ball to James and Davis on the wings for open three-point looks. Unfortunately, he came up just short of the Montagne Center assist record of 13.

    “Kendrick did a terrific job forcing the tempo,” lauded Cardinal coach Steve Roccaforte. “In my opinion, this was the best game he’s played at Lamar. Twelve assists against two turnovers is pretty strong.”

    “Harris created a lot of problems for us,” agreed Texas State coach Doug Davalos. “His dribble penetration opened up the whole court for them. We just couldn’t stop the ball. We  have to be a better defensive team than that.”

    The victory improved Lamar to 7-8 in SLC play and 13-16 overall. While winning kept the Cardinals post-season hopes alive, those hopes were hurt when Southeastern Louisiana improved to 8-7 by shocking McNeese St. in Lake Charles. Nor did it help when Nicholls State moved to 8-7 by nipping Northwestern St. LU did get a break when Texas-Arlington dropped to 7-8 by falling at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

    Texas State, though falling to 10-5, 15-14, stayed in the running for the No. 1 seed in the tourney, thanks to McNeese losing. To get the top seed, the Bobcats must rebound at Sam Houston State on Saturday and get help from Lamar against McNeese State.

    LU’s explosion against Texas State was keyed by Roccaforte’s early-game decision to pull his starters and send in what he calls his “White team” of James, Davis, Harris, Charlie Harper and Orlando Brazier. They entered with the Cardinals trailing 6-3 at the 16:55 mark.

    In the next 6:55, with James and  Harris raining in treys from all over, Lamar outscored the Bobcats 28-14. The Cardinals would lead 54-46 at halftime and stretch the margin to 85-60 before a frantic Texas State rally nearly pulled the game out.

    The Bobcats, who were scoring at will from in close and on putbacks, got within 101-97 with 2:06 to play. Harper may have saved the day for the Cardinals with a clutch offensive rebound and feed to James. Mr. Instant Offense swished a short jumper, Texas State missed on the other end, Harris added two free throws and the Cardinals were home free.

    Roccaforte, in an attempt to get his players back to a faster tempo, had them scrimmaging in practice with only 15 seconds on the shot clock. The message apparently got across because there would have been few times Wednesday night, especially in the game’s first 35 minutes, when the Cardinals needed 15 seconds to unload.

    “Coach told us to push in transition and force the tempo at all times,” said James. “It was just crazy in there when Brandon and I got so hot at the same time. Kendrick did a great job of getting us the ball.”

    Harris said his only regret about Wednesday night was that it was his final Lamar home game.

    “It was fun tonight,” he said. “This is the kind of team we are capable of being. I just told Mike and Brandon to spot up and I’ll find you. We have to come back and play like this at McNeese. We don’t want the season to end.”

    With James (4-of-6) and Davis (6-of-11) combining to go 10-of-17 on treys, Lamar shot 48.1 percent (13-of-27) behind the arc. James made his first two and James his first three treys before either player missed. During one stretch of the second half, Davis took advantage of Harris’ penetration to bang in three consecutive bonus buckets in the span of 53 seconds.

    Ultimately, Lamar would need every point it could muster because once the Bobcats got rolling offensively the Cardinals couldn’t stop them. Tony Bishop, who had 27 points and 12 rebounds, killed LU inside and got plenty of help from Ryan White and Matt Staff who had 16 points each.

    Texas State wore out Lamar in the paint, 62-44, but the really eye-opening stat was the Cardinals 77-34 advantage in bench points. Lamar shot 51.3 percent overall (40-78) while the Bobcats were close behind at 49.4 (40-of-81). The Bobcats, though, made only 6-of-22 treys.