Cards visit rivals with 2-game deficit to make up

Published 2:14 pm Friday, February 19, 2016

BEAUMONT — The clock is ticking.

Lamar has five games to make up a two-game hole that separates itself from McNeese State, the eighth-place eligible team in the Southland Conference. Only the top eight teams make the conference tournament next month at the Merrell Center in Katy, but while Lamar is in last place, three of the 13 Southland teams — Abilene Christian, Central Arkansas and Incarnate Word — cannot participate in the postseason.

The good news for Lamar: The Cardinals (10-15, 2-11 Southland) can directly make up ground Saturday by beating McNeese (6-17, 4-9). The bad news is that Lamar has not won in its past eight games and 11 of 12.

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“I’m just hoping for a complete game,” Lamar coach Tic Price said. “We just have to understand the moment that is not over. We still have a chance to get into the tournament. We have to be able to play in a hostile environment. Obviously when you play your rivals, you have to play with more toughness. You have to play as much of a complete game as possible.”

Price said he’s never been through such a bad slide in his 12 years as head coach, but with four postseason appearances (two in the NCAA tournament with New Orleans and McNeese State), he knows about the other side of it.

“It only proves what Joe Paterno once said: ‘Losing can be a habit just like winning can be a habit.’ We’re trying to break that habit,” he said. “Winding down the season, obviously everybody is jockeying for position and trying to get to a position they can possibly end the season strong. I’m not concerned about anybody else but the Lamar Cardinals.”

McNeese has a two-game slide of its own to overcome, having lost last Saturday at Northwestern State (87-78) and Monday at home to Southeastern Louisiana in overtime, 79-76. The Cowboys’ longest skid this season is four games, and that ended with a 105-60 loss at Indiana in December.

The Cowboys may be glad they’re not playing on the road Saturday, where they have not won in 13 tries this campaign. But the Cardinals have not won in Lake Charles since the 1997-98 season.

Junior guard Jamaya Burr (14.8 points per game) is the eighth-leading scorer in the Southland, but the Cowboys rank near the bottom of the conference in scoring (69.7) and scoring defense (78.8). They defend well in the paint, however, with 4.4 blocks per game, and the Cowboys like to pound the ball in the low block, according to Price.

“Watching McNeese State, you have to keep them out the paint,” said Price, McNeese’s head coach from 2001-06. “That’s going to be very, very important. And then we have to make sure when they take shots, we have to force outside shots. When they take those shots, there’s got to be shot pressure. Those are keys for us in having a chance to beat McNeese State.”

And Lamar must get out a free-throw shooting funk. The Cards hit 7 of 16 Monday in a 79-78 loss at Houston Baptist, following a 30-for-42 display a week earlier in a 71-67 loss to Abilene Christian.

Freshman guard Nick Garth could return after missing Monday’s loss with flu-like symptoms, so Price is counting on sophomore point Kevin Booze and freshman forward Dorian Chatman to build on their recent strong performances. Both combined for 31 points, while Booze (17 points) passed out 11 assists and Chatman nearly got his own double-double with nine.

“Booze had the kind of stats I expect him, for the most part, to get,” Price said. “He’s capable of being one of the better point guards in our conference when he’s on his game. Dorian also has a chance to be one of most talented freshmen in the conference. When he’s in rhythm and scores a few buckets, he’s got a chance to be good as well. We’ve got to have them to finish the season strong.”

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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