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LU’s Knight gives full credit to Vermont

One day later, and with the benefit of having watching the tape of Vermont’s 71-59 victory over Lamar in Wednesday night’s NCAA First Four game in Dayton, Ohio, Cardinal coach Pat Knight was quick to give  the Catamounts a tip of his cap.

    “That’s a good basketball team,” Knight said. “They don’t have any stiffs and they execute their flex offensive really, really well. Not only were they good from the perimeter, but they had no weak spot inside. I was worried about the matchup from the first time I saw them on tape. I’m looking forward to seeing how they do against North Carolina. It’s not going to be a walk through for the Tarheels.”

    Knight agreed with a reporter’s assessment that the Cardinals didn’t seem to have a lot of pep in their step.

    “We were a bit lethargic,” he said. “I don’t know if it was playing scared or being tired. The first time I really noticed it was when Osas (Ebomwonyi) jogged back and their big guy beat us down the floor for a lay-up. It just didn’t look like we were attuned to the game. There was just no energy whatever. They were beating us to loose balls.

    “Anthony Miles was begging guys to step up. The only guy who came off the bench with any emotion was Donley Minor. But I don’t want to take anything away from Vermont. They were the better team. I think they are probably better than anybody in our conference. Once they get a lead they don’t mess around.”

    Vermont, which has won 15 of its last 16, will take a 24-11 record into a 3:10 p.m. game Friday against No. 1 seed North Carolina in Greensboro, N.C.

    Knight said that he knew by halftime Lamar was going to have serious problems trying to make the kind of run needed to get back in the game. The feeling stemmed from the fact that the Cardinals weren’t able to get steals or create turnovers.

    “Even after Miles made the three to get us within seven (52-45), it was hard to be optimistic,” Knight said. “They didn’t panic at all, they just kept doing what they do. When we made runs during the season, they would be triggered by steals or blocked shots leading to easy baskets. We didn’t get any of those against Vermont.

    “I just thought they were an extremely well coached team and I told their coach that after the game. I also told that freshman (Four McGlynn) that he’s a terrific player and I’ll be watching to see how his career goes. But, like I said, they don’t have any stiffs.”

    Lamar dug itself into a hole by making only 9-of-31 shots and trailing 30-21 at halftime. The Cardinals, with leading scorer Mike James struggling through a 6-of-17 night, wound up shooting just 33.3 percent (20-of-60) for the game. Vermont stuck with the Cardinals so well defensively there weren’t a lot of open looks.

    “We got frustrated,” Knight said.  “It’s a problem we had all year, especially in games with a slower tempo. The easy way out is just to jack up a bad shot, which we did several times. There was too much dribble drive stuff. Again, I have to credit Vermont. They did a great job of help defense.

    “On offense, they did a textbook job of sealing our big guys and creating easy baskets. If our big guys got out of their stance and focused on the cutter, they sealed the heck out of them. In the Southland, most teams are perimeter oriented. This team could hurt you outside and inside.”

    Knight, who became extremely emotional talking about his seniors in the post-game press conference Wednesday night, said it hurt him deeply to see them lose their final game.

    “I’ve said over and over the past few days how special these guys were, how much they mean to me for the way they responded when I challenged them and how I’ll never forget them,” he said. “I meant every word. They became a really good part of Lamar basketball history and tradition. I will always be there for them.”

    Thanks to the late-season push after the Knight rant, Lamar finished 23-12, and did it without the help of a non-conference schedule full of cupcakes. The only teams in school history with more wins were the 25-5 Cardinals of 1980-81 and the 26-5 outfit in 1983-84. LU teams won 23 games in 1978-79 and 1982-83.