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MEN’S BASKETBALL: Vaqueros storm back, edge Cardinals

Lamar sports information

EDINBURG — A hot start cooled off for Lamar’s men’s basketball team (3-3) Friday in the closing minutes at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley (4-2). The Cards fell to the Vaqueros 77-75 in the UTRGV Fieldhouse.

Nick Garth led Lamar’s offensive effort with 17 points and was joined in double-figures by Jordan Hunter (16 points), Josh Nzeakor (15 points), and T.J. Atwood (13 points). Nzeakor had a double-double with 12 boards, and Michael Kolawole collected 13 rebounds to accompany his six points and five assists. Hunter led in assists with seven.

From the opening tip until halfway through the first half the game belonged solely to Lamar. The Cards made their first three shots after winning the tip, leading 7-0. At the first media stoppage LU led 18-4 with Atwood making his first four shots, and over the next 4 minutes Atwood, Nzeakor, and Garth combined for a 10-0 run for Big Red, leading Lamar to a 28-4 lead with 10:07 to go. But momentum began to swing UTRGV’s way after the second media stoppage. The Vaqueros outscored the Cardinals 30-14 to close out the half, forcing turnovers and collecting offensive rebounds, both things that Lamar had done a great job of preventing in the opening 10.

Momentum continued to swing back and forth between the two teams in the second half. Lamar grew its lead out of the break to as much as 13 points, 52-39, with about 16 minutes to go only to have the Vaqueros answer with a 5-0 run to cut the lead back to eight. A Garth three-pointer would stretch that lead back to 11, and again UTRGV found answers with driving layups and points off rebounds and turnovers. Lamar’s margin was cut down to just four points three separate times from the 10:30 mark to the 7:23 mark, and a put-back after a missed three cut the Cardinal advantage to just two points, 66-64, with 6:34 left on the clock.

A shot clock violation on Lamar’s end and another second chance bucket knotted the game up for the first time, 68-68, with just under 5 minutes to go. Hunter nailed a jumper from about 7 feet out to put LU back out front, but a driving layup from the Vaqueros tied the game again at 70-70 with about 3 minutes remaining. UTRGV took its first lead of the game, 72-70, just one possession later.

One of the biggest plays of the game came with 2:37 left on the clock. Kolawole hit the first of two free throws to pull Lamar within one, 72-71, and nailed an easy layup after collecting his own miss of the second free throw. Lamar led 73-72. UTRGV tied it up with a free throw on the other end and missed the second, and with 2 minutes ticking off the clock LU and UTRGV were tied again at 73 apiece.

After UTRGV made two of four free throws in the closing minute, Lamar had the ball with 12.5 seconds left go and trailing by two points, 75-73. The Cards got an open shot but just barely missed, and UTRGV nailed both free throws with 7 seconds to go. Hunter was fouled on the three-point line with 1.2 seconds to go and hit two, then collected the rebound on an intentional miss. Lamar’s shot missed as the clock expired and UTRGV escaped with a two-point win, 77-75.

The Cards return to action on Nov. 27 at SMU, the second of five consecutive road games for Lamar. Big Red will play at Rice (Dec. 1), at Houston (Dec. 4), and at CSU-Bakersfield (Dec. 13) before returning to the friendly confines of the Montagne Center on Dec. 19 against Texas Southern.