MEN’S BASKETBALL: Atwood’s big second half sparks Cardinals past Islanders

Published 8:23 pm Saturday, January 5, 2019

Lamar sports information

BEAUMONT – Junior T.J. Atwood scored 22 points (18 in the second half) and pulled down six rebounds to lead Lamar to a thrilling 61-55 victory over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Saturday afternoon at the Montagne Center. The victory moved LU back to .500 in Southland Conference play (8-7, 1-1 SLC).

“This was a total team effort this afternoon,” said LU head coach Tic Price. “Everyone contributed, but some of those contributions don’t always show up in the box score. All those little things add up to a victory. If we hit our free throws and don’t turn over the ball in the first half, we could be up double digits at half time.

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“I felt like we came out a little anxious in the first half. It seemed like everyone was trying to win the game in the first minute. It took us until halftime, but we finally settled down. I thought we made the right adjustments and began making plays,” added Price.

Saturday’s contest could be described as two different games – the first half where LU struggled, and the second which saw Big Red come to life and put A&M-Corpus Christi away.

The Cardinals finished the game shooting 43 percent for the game. That is a far cry from an opening half where LU shot less than 29 percent from field, just 1-of-8 from three-point range and was held to a total of 18 points. LU also struggled from the free throw line in the opening half converting just 5 of 12 attempts while turning the ball over 13 times.

The Red and White came out on fire in the second half knocking down 12 of 21 (.571) from the field and 3 of 6 (.500) three-pointers. LU also improved at the free throw line and turned the ball over just six times in the closing 20 minutes.

It was a similar story for the visiting Islanders, who were held to 8-of-29 (.276) shooting from the field and just a 2-of-9 (.222) performance from three-point range in the first. A&M-Corpus Christi was also outrebounded 23-17 in the first half but managed to take a 22-18 lead into the locker room after converting LU’s 13 opening-half turnovers into 13 points. The Islanders also saw improved shooting in the second half but that wasn’t good enough to overcome a late rally by the Cardinals due to some strong defensive play.

The Cardinals led by a point, 16-15, with 3:30 remaining in the opening half. That would be the Cardinals’ largest and only lead until 9 minutes remaining in the second half. Big Red watched A&M-Corpus Christi push their advantage to as many as seven points, 41-34, 7:26 into the second half but could never find the knockout punch.

Trailing by two with 3:47 on the clock, LU got a basket from Atwood in traffic to tie the game at 48. The basket sparked a 10-0 run to give LU an eight-point lead, 56-48, with 1:23 to play. The run was aided by three steals on consecutive possessions by the LU defense.

“T.J. did a great job for us tonight,” said Price. “I really thought he did a good job of getting downhill. We wanted to attack the gaps and T.J. was able to find those gaps and make plays. Corpus did a good job of collapsing down on Josh (Nzeakor) but that left other guys open to make plays, and T.J. really took advantage tonight.”

The Islanders responded with consecutive baskets in the paint to trim the lead to four points, 56-52, with less than a minute to play LU didn’t allow their guests to get any closer. For all their struggles at the stripe in the opening half the Cards closed the game knocking down 11 of their final 15 attempts to secure the victory.

The Cardinals return to action Wednesday when they return to the friendly confines of the Montagne Center to host New Orleans. The game against the Privateers will tip off at 7 p.m. and will be broadcast live on Newstalk 560 KLVI.