Redbirds? How about ‘angry birds’?

Published 9:25 pm Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Lamar men’s basketball coach Tic Price wasn’t too concerned with earning the 200th win of his career. He was wondering how the Cardinals would respond from a loss at UT Rio Grande Valley on Friday.

“We can’t be Cardinals tonight. We have to be angry birds,” Price said, recalling his pregame speech from Monday night. “We have to play with a chip on our shoulder. The kids responded to the pregame speech, which was ‘Protect the nest.’”

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Inside the well-woven nest called the Montagne Center, Lamar (6-5) shot 62.8 percent from the floor Monday night in beating Liberty (Va.) 82-65. The win improved Price’s career record to 200-165 overall and 33-43.

Maybe most pleasing to Price was the way the Cards started. They led 20-6 before Liberty (5-7), coached by recent Virginia assistant and former New Mexico and Oregon State coach Ritchie McKay, pulled within 35-32.

The run was short-lived as the Cards continued to shoot better than 60 percent from the floor in the second half and outscore the Flames 43-33.

Sophomore guard Nick Garth was a big reason for that success. He knocked down 7 of 8 three-point shots and had a game-high 22 points in his usual reserve role.

“Nick is a guy who gives us that spark off the bench,” Price said. “When he comes in, he has the ability to knock down shots. We just have a lot of confidence in him. We bring him off because he gives us the spark we need.”

Garth is second in scoring for Lamar with 12.3 points per game, trailing only Colton Weisbrod’s 14.5. Garth’s 45.3 percent field-goal shooting (43 of 95) and 44.4 percent clip from three-point range (32 of 72) are big improvements from his freshman season, when he recorded marks of 38.1 and 33.7 percent, respectively.

Getting players to do what they didn’t think was possible was a lesson Price has learned in a head-coaching career that began in 1994, when he was elevated from assistant coach at New Orleans following the death of recently-hired Tommy Joe Eagles.

He’s earned four regular-season championships and two conference tournament titles in a career that’s taken him from New Orleans (1994-97) to Memphis (1997-99) and into the Southland Conference with McNeese State (2001-06).

The 33 victories at Lamar wouldn’t have occurred had he not been asked to take over for the fired Pat Knight at the end of the 2013-14 season. Price had been assistant coach and associate vice president for student engagement at Lamar since 2008.

“I got a lot of people who contributed to that,” Price said. “Former players, former coaches and a wife [Jamie Lynn] who’s very supportive. Never been about me. It’s been about the team. I’m just pleased I got the big win. I wasn’t thinking about 200.”

Lamar plays its second of a three-game homestand Wednesday night against Arlington Baptist, and Price has issued a challenge to locals to visit his “angry birds’” nest.

“My challenge to the community and the fan base is, you know, you have asked us to recruit some of our local kids,” he said, voicing his disappointment. “We’ve got four local players, and where are you? Come out to the games to support those kids.”

Nederland graduate Colton Weisbrod and Christian Albright came to Lamar before this season from Lamar State College Port Arthur. Dorian Chatman is a sophomore from Port Arthur and T.J. Atwood is a recent Central graduate.

Lamar has averaged 1,751 fans inside its 10,000-seat arena through four games.

“Now, it’s your turn to return the favor,” Price said. “It works both ways. … I need them in those seats.”

I.C. Murrell: 721-2435. Twitter: @ICMurrellPANews

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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