Basketball Cardinals relying on fresh faces as Vaqueros visit

Published 2:07 am Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The statistics are telling.

Four of the Lamar men’s basketball team’s five freshmen have played in each game so far, with three of them among the top five in scoring. The three leading scorers for the Cardinals in Sunday’s 74-69 to California-Riverside — Josh Nzeakor, Dorian Chatman and Nick Garth — are all freshmen.

The pace of the Cardinals’ last two ballgames is telling, too. Lamar (2-3) has not started off very quickly and, although it has found ways to climb back into games against Rice and UC Riverside, failed to finish in the end.

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Yet, the fact that the young Cardinals can come back from double-digit deficits are positives they themselves take away from what is now a two-game losing streak.

“I know going into halftime we were down 20,” Chatman said after Sunday’s loss in Beaumont. “To only lose by, like anywhere from four to six [points], that’s a big positive we take from it. That shows us when we play hard and do what we know we can do, nobody should really be able to step on the court with us.”

So, Lamar’s expectation for tonight’s home game is that the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley (2-4) cannot compete with the Cardinals. It marks the second of three straight games inside the Montagne Center for the Cards, who still need three victories to reach 300 all-time inside the venue, which opened 31 years ago.

“It’s very important,” Chatman said. “You don’t let anybody come in your house and take anything. I mean, when you get wins, you get in a rhythm. And when you get in a rhythm, you get confidence. When you get confidence, you feel like nobody can stay on the court with you. We need the confidence as a team.”

Yet, the Cardinals have found a little confidence in their comeback performances.

Nzeakor, a 6-foot-7 forward from Mesquite, starts in the frontcourt along with Port Arthur’s 6-foot-7 Chatman. Nzeakor had 11 of his 16 points in the second half and finished the game shooting 5 for 6 from the floor against UC Riverside.

“I’m just learning,” he said. “Every game is a learning game experience. I’m just getting better and better. I started out slow in the season, but I’m getting in a groove so I can get more comfortable.”

Another newcomer, junior transfer guard Lincoln Davis, leads Lamar in scoring at 12.8 points per game. But freshman Garth and sophomore backcourt mate Kevin Booze are second at 12.6 each, with Garth coming off the bench.

Despite a new name, UT Rio Grande Valley is not a new opponent to Lamar. UTRGV was known as UT Pan American until this past July 1, when it consolidated with UT Brownsville. The former athletic identities of Broncs for UTPA and Ocelots for then-NAIA UT Brownsville were dropped, and the Pan American athletic department became known as the UTRGV Vaqueros. Although UTRGV encompasses campuses across the valley, the Vaqueros are based in the former UTPA location of Edinburg and compete in the Division I Western Athletic Conference.

The Vaqueros (2-4), who have won three straight against the Cardinals, are looking for a bounce-back of their own in their second game in three days in Southeast Texas, after losing to Houston 78-65. They have yet to win away from Edinburg.

With continued help from Lamar’s freshmen — right from the tip — the Cardinals may be the first to three wins tonight.

“We’ve just got to look at tape and see what we’ve got to do to get them out of the locker room ready to go,” Lamar coach Tic Price said. “I think, a lot of times, when you get off to a slow start, you’re not focused enough. In my mind, I think there is a lack of focus, not understanding when you play, you have to earn a win. You just don’t step out on the court because you’re playing at home and think you’re going to get a win. You have fight for every inch and dominate your spot. Coming out of the locker room, I don’t think we’ve done that. But it’s part of the maturation process. What I admire about this team, they didn’t quit.”

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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